Calif. Coroner IDs 5 Limo Fire Victims

The victims from Saturday night's deadly limo fire on the San Mateo bridge were identified Tuesday

By Lisa Fernandez and Jodi Hernandez
|  Wednesday, May 8, 2013  |  Updated 1:01 AM PDT
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The coroner released the names of the women who died when the limo they were riding in Saturday night caught fire. Jodi Hernandez talked to some of the people who missed them the most.

The coroner released the names of the women who died when the limo they were riding in Saturday night caught fire. Jodi Hernandez talked to some of the people who missed them the most.

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The cornoner of San Mateo County, Calif.,  released the names on Tuesday of the five women who died Saturday night in a fiery limousine tragedy on the San Mateo Bridge.

The women were part of a bachelorette party -- four women survived -- to celebrate Neriza Fojas' marriage when the Limo Stop 1999 Lincoln Town Car limousine they were in caught fire for an unexplained reason. The women were trapped inside and died.

The women who died all lived in California: Michelle Estrera, 35, of Fresno; Anna Alcantara, 46, of San Lorenzo; Neriza Fojas, 31, of Fresno; Jennifer Balon, 39, of Dublin; and Felomina Geornga, 43, of Alameda. All were nurses.

John Balon, Jennifer Balon's husband, told NBC Bay Area on Tuesday that several of the women invited to the bachelorette party on Saturday night had been at his daughter's 10th birthday party at Dublin Bowl earlier in the day. They returned home for dinner, and then his wife headed out for what was supposed to be a night of fun in Foster City at the Crowne Plaza Hotel.

"She kissed me goodbye and she left with her friends," Balon said. 

It was his last kiss. The limo she was in caught fire on the San Mateo Bridge about 10 p.m., trapping her and four others inside. The driver, Orville Brown, wasn't injured.

Now, Balon is left to raise his daughter, Jillian, and 1-year-old son, Jayden, on his own.

"She was a very, loving, sweet mom...she nurtured them," Balon said. "They won't have her in their lifetime. They won't have a mom."

A relative told NBC Bay Area that Fojas was recently married here in the United States, but she was also planning a wedding in the Philippines on June 19. 

She was preparing to get her master's degree, according to Christina Kitts, who said that Fojas lived in Hawaii while she reviewed for her nursing exam, then took a job in Oakland, for two years before moving to Fresno, where she had been a nurse at Community Regional Medical Center for a year.

Community Regional released a statement about Fojas and Estrera, who worked for them in Fresno as nurses.

"Neriza Fojas and Michelle Estrera were exemplary nurses who dedicated their lives to helping others. These two outstanding nurses were loved by their patients, colleagues and staff at our hospital. Both were good friends, stellar nurses and excellent mentors who served as preceptors to new nurses. On behalf of everyone at Community Regional, we offer our condolences to their family and friends. We will dearly miss these two special people who have touched our lives during their time at Community Regional."

 

The brother-in-law of another victim, Anna Alcantara, says her family is also heart broken. Alcantra was also a wife and mother of two children.

"It's hard to imagine the pain they had gone through and now the pain the husband and kids are going through," Resty Padojino said.

Four women did survive the horrific accident. Three were still hospitalized on Tuesday. Jasmine Deguia, 34, of San Jose and Amalia Loyola, 48, of San Leandro were at Valley Medical Center in San Jose. They were upgraded to "fair" condition on Tuesday.

Stanford Medical Center would not discuss the details of Mary G. Guardiano, 42, of Alameda. According to reports, though, she had been released.

Nelia Arrellano, 36, of Oakland had been released from Stanford earlier on Monday, and spoke emotionally about the deaths of her friends.

Meanwhile, state Public Utilities Commission spokeswoman Terrie Prosper said  that the commission is looking into whether the operator of the limo, Limo Stop of San Jose, willfully misrepresented the seating capacity to the agency. If so, Limo Stop could be penalized $7,500 for each day it was in violation. Limo Stop's owner, Kultar Singh, has expressed his sympathies, but deferred all comments to his attorney, who did not immediately respond for comment.
 
Limo Stop is licensed and has shown evidence of liability insurance, Prosper said. The company has seven vehicles with a seating capacity of up to eight passengers listed with the commission, and it has not been the target of any previous enforcement action.
 
The CPUC, which regulates limousines, requires that all carriers have a preventive maintenance program and maintain a daily vehicle inspection report, Prosper said. Carriers also certify that they are have or are enrolled in a safety education and training program, she said.
 
Prosper said requirements for emergency exits only apply to buses, and limousines are not required to have fire extinguishers.
 
Joan Claybrook, the top federal auto-safety regulator under President Jimmy Carter, said the stretch limousine industry is poorly regulated because the main agency that oversees car safety doesn't have enough money to prioritize investigating the small businesses that modify limos after they leave the assembly line.
 
Instead, the agency tends to focus more on problems with new cars and major recalls, she said.

A nonprofit recall website shows that the 1999 Lincoln Town Car has been subject to five recalls: In 2000, tires, jack equipment, and the front seat belts were recalled. In 1998, the suspension was recalled.
 
U.S. Department of Transportation data shows five people died in three separate stretch limo accidents in 2010, and 21 people died in another three stretch limo accidents in 2011.

 

 Associated Press writers Sudhin Thanawala in San Francisco and Gosia Wozniacka, and NBC Bay Area's Christie Smith, Kris Sanchez, Lori Preuitt and Kinsey Kiriakos contributed to this report.

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