REDWOOD CITY — Officials at a Fresno, Calif., hospital say two of its nurses were among the five people killed when a limousine burst into flames on a San Francisco Bay bridge over the weekend.
A statement from Community Regional Medical Center says Neriza Fojas and Michelle Estrera were killed when the limo caught fire on the San Mateo-Hayward Bridge Saturday night.
Hospital officials say both nurses worked on a trauma medical/surgical floor at the hospital.
Relatives had previously told the San Francisco Chronicle and the San Jose Mercury News that the 31-year-old Fojas was one of the women killed in the fire, and that she had recently wed and was planning to travel to her native Philippines to hold another ceremony.
An official at the San Mateo County Coroner's Office said Monday that the names of the dead probably would not be released until Tuesday.
Authorities searched for answers Monday in the fire that roared through a stretch limo packed with women on a girls' night out, hoping to learn what sparked the blaze and why five of the victims could not escape the fast-spreading flames.
The women who were killed were found pressed up against the partition behind the driver, apparently because smoke and fire kept them from the rear exits of the extended passenger compartment.
The position of the bodies suggested they were trying to get away from the fire, said San Mateo County Coroner Robert Foucrault. His office planned to begin autopsies later Monday.
The women were celebrating the wedding of a newlywed friend when the rear portion of the Lincoln Town Car went up in flames Saturday night on the San Mateo-Hayward Bridge over San Francisco Bay. The driver and four women were able to escape. The newlywed was among the dead.
The driver, Orville Brown, 46, of San Jose, said at first he misunderstood what one of the passengers in the back was saying when she knocked on the partition between the passenger area and the driver and complained about smelling smoke.
With the music turned up, he initially thought the woman was asking if she could smoke. Seconds later, he said, the women knocked again, this time screaming, "Smoke, smoke!" and "Pull over," Brown told the San Francisco Chronicle (http://bit.ly/10jcd0t ).
He helped the four survivors escape through the partition. One of the women ran around to a rear passenger door, but by then the vehicle was engulfed in flames.
"When she opened that back door, I knew it wasn't a good scene," Brown said. "I figured with all that fire that they were gone, man. There were just so many flames. Within maybe 90 seconds, the car was fully engulfed."
California Highway Patrol Commander Mike Maskarich said the state Public Utilities Commission had authorized the vehicle to carry eight or fewer passengers, but it had nine on the night of the deadly fire.
He said it was too early in the investigation to say whether overcrowding may have been a factor in the deaths. Investigators have conducted preliminary interviews with the survivors and the driver, but more in-depth interviews, as well as an inspection of the gutted vehicle, were still needed.
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