May 7, 2013 at 9:50 AM ET
The driver of a limo that became engulfed in flames on the San Mateo Bridge in California and resulted in the deaths of five women described a “horrific experience’’ on TODAY Tuesday.
Orville Brown was chauffeuring nine women on their way to a bridal shower on Saturday when the white 1999 Lincoln Town Car became engulfed in flames for unknown reasons. The bride, Neriza Fojas, 31, and four other women died.
“I’m just looking at some of the victims, just real frustrated,’’ Brown told Willie Geist. “It’s just frustrating, depressing.
“Everything happened so fast. It was a horrific experience.”
Two of the surviving four women remained in the hospital Tuesday, one in stable condition and one in critical.
The car was only minutes from its destination, the hotel where Fojas’ fiance was waiting for her, when it caught fire.
Nelia Arellano, 36, described crying out to Brown to get him to pull over. She said flames shot out from underneath the rear seat and the back doors were quickly covered in smoke and fire.
“I told you there is smoke and then a fire came out, and I said there is already a fire, you need to stop the car, stop the car,’’ Arellano told NBC’s Miguel Almaguer. “Jasmine said, ‘I cannot get out. Help me, I cannot get out.’ So, I tried to pull her out.’’
When Arellano told Brown about the smoke, he initially thought she meant something else.
“I thought that she wanted to smoke a cigarette and I said, ‘No the owner doesn’t allow you to smoke cigarettes,’ and I looked at the GPS directly in front of me and it said four minutes. I said we only have four minutes and you can smoke then. I kind of looked back and I saw the grief on her face, the frustration and the pain and could see a little smoke.’’
Brown pulled over, and he said a car in front of him and one behind also pulled over to help. One woman climbed through the limo's partition to the front seat, and Brown said he helped pull another one through the partition. Brown and the women who were able to exit the car then ran to the back of the limo and tried to open the doors to save the others.
“Once they opened the door, there were so many flames,’’ he said. “Everything happened so fast. Once they opened the door, the car was completely engulfed in flames. One got stuck (in the partition), I helped pull her through, and at that time, it was horrific.’’
Brown couldn’t remember if he tried to pull other women through the partition. The coroner said that the five women found dead were located behind the driver’s seat, meaning they most likely were trying to get through the partition.
“I’m not sure because at that point, there was somebody else in the car trying to help, and I’m on the phone,’’ he said. “Everything happened so fast. I’m trying to use the phone, I couldn’t use the phone, I’m shaking, nervous, (and) some of the ladies are crying.”
The California Highway Patrol said the car, which was carrying nine passengers, is designed to carry eight, and the investigation into the tragedy could take weeks. No one has been cited for the accident and the CHP said that the company, Limo Stop, has all the necessary permits.