CHP: Limo Authorized to Carry 8 Passengers, Not 9

"I don't make the rules I'm just a driver," limo driver said

The California Highway Patrol said Monday that the limousine where five women died on Saturday was authorized to carry eight passengers, not nine.

Capt. Mike Maskarich said that the driver, Orville Brown, however, was properly licensed to operate the white stretch car, considered a "chartered party vehicle," despite the fact that there was one more passenger than allowed.

In a separate interview on Monday, Brown told NBC Bay Area that he thought "a limo could hold more than that, to be honest with you."

He added: "I don't make the rules I'm just a driver."

A surviving passenger in the limo, Neila Arrellano, 36, a nurse who works at the Fruitvale Health Center in Oakland, described through tears that she was yelling at Brown to pull over.

"Stop the car, stop the car," she recalled telling Brown. "I told you, there is smoke."

Arrellano also said the driver, in her opinion, wasn't doing enough.

“Open the door. Open the door. But he didn’t do anything. He was on the phone,” Arrellano said.

She also said none of her friends smoked, and the fire came from under her seat in the back of the car.

Brown's brother, Lewis Brown, responded to that claim. He told NBC Bay Area they think she was confused. "The partition was solid. He [Orville Brown] was not on the phone. He added that she couldn't have seen him at all because the partition wasn't made of see-through glass.

Investigators are trying to determine if any criminal wrongdoing occurred in relation to the Limo Stop limousine bursting into flames about 10 p.m. when a bridal shower turned tragic. That's when five women died on Highway 92, after the 1999 Lincoln Town Car they were riding in burst into flames on the San Mateo-Hayward Bridge. Four women were able to escape and were taken to hospitals.

VIDEO: News Conference: CHP and Fire Officials Address Limo Fatality (Part 1) | (Part 2)

Authorities did not discuss whether an electrical problem may have been the cause of the fire or whether having the extra passenger had anything to do with the fiery deaths.

The CHP has yet to review the maintenance records of the limo. No arrests have been made.

The California Public Utilities Commission regulates limo companies. And a check with their database on Monday shows that the company - Limo Stop - has no complaints on file.

Limo Stop Owner Kultar Singh deferred all comment to his lawyer, Doug Sears, of Sacramento, who was not immediately available for comment.

Other officials at the news conference in Redwood City were short on detail, but expressed their sympathies.

News Conference: CHP and Fire Officials Address Limo Fatality (part 2)

"We are devastated," Foster City Fire Chief Michael Keefe said, adding that his department is sending prayers to the families.

A bride was among the women killed. The victim's sister-in-law, Lovela Nicolas, identified the bride as Neriza Fojas.

A family member told NBC Bay Area she 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, Calif., for two years before moving to Fresno, where she had been a nurse at Community Regional Medical Center for a year.

Community Regional released the name of a second victim on Monday. They said fellow nurse Michelle Estrera also died in the fire.

"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 hospital statement read.

The remaining three victims have not been identified.

Four other people in the limo escaped with burns and smoke inhalation.

As of Monday morning, Valley Medical Center in San Jose said that Jasmine Desguia, 34, of San Jose and Amalia Loyola, 48, of San Leandro were still in critical condition. Stanford Medical Center would not discuss the details of Mary G. Guardiano, 42, of Alameda.

Nelia Arrellano, 36, of Oakland had been released from Stanford earlier in the day.

Eight of the women in the limo, including Arrellano, were internationally sponsored nurses who worked at the Fruitvale Health Care Center on East 15th Street in Oakland, an administrator told NBC Bay Area on Monday.

Brown, the limo driver (pictured) told NBC Bay Area over the weekend that he thought the women were trying to get his attention to ask him to pull over so that they could smoke.

“She said, 'No smoke - smoke smoke…pull over pull over pull over,'" he recalled. "I saw the smoke, pulled over, by the time I was getting out the car there was a lady coming over the partition.”

He said he helped three other women come through that same partition. “We were all in shock. Scared. Crying. Frustrated. I just reach out to the families and wish we could have done more.”

RAW AUDIO: Limo Driver Speaks About Fatality in San Mateo Bridge Accident

The limo company, Limo Stop released a statement, saying it was "deeply saddened" by the tragedy.

"Limo Stop, Inc. will do everything possible to investigate and assist authorities in determining the cause of this fire in order to bring forth answers and provide closure to (the) victims and their families," the statement added.

The CHP credited three good Samaritans who stopped and helped some of the women get out. 

San Mateo County Coroner Robert Foucrault told NBC Bay Area that the scene was the worst he has witnessed in his 20 years on the job.

He said it was obvious to him that the women were trying to get out of the vehicle and were overcome by smoke.

Below, Arrellano describes through tears how events surrounding a limo fire that killed five of her friends unfolded.



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