By Joseph Serna and Lee Romney
10:49 AM PDT, May 7, 2013
The rear passenger doors were locked on a limousine that caught fire on a Bay Area bridge, fatally trapping five of its passengers, the husband of one of the victims said.
John Balon told the San Francisco Chronicle that one of the limo’s survivors, Nelia Arrellano, 36, said the limo’s doors were locked when the women tried to escape a fire that appears to have begun in the rear of the vehicle.
Balon’s wife, Jenni, 39, was one of five women who died in Saturday night’s fire.
“Every time I see my kids playing, I miss her so much,” Balon told the Chronicle. “Now that she’s gone, my kids are always looking for her.”Although officials said they had yet to review the limousine's maintenance record or examine its burned-out shell, California Highway Patrol Capt. Mike Maskarich said the 1999 Lincoln Town Car was licensed to carry only eight passengers, though nine were inside.
The Saturday night inferno trapped the women as they headed for what was to be a celebratory bridal party at a hotel.
The Chronicle identified two other victims as Michelle Estrera, 35, of Fresno and Anna Alcantara, 46, of San Lorenzo.
"Any time we have a significant loss of life, it's very difficult, but given the particular nature of what's transpired, it's just beyond words," Maskarich said.
The San Mateo County coroner worked to match dental records provided by family members with X-rays of the remains before releasing names.
Neriza Fojas, one of the dead, had recently gotten married and was the guest of honor Saturday. She and Estrera were "exemplary nurses who dedicated their lives to helping others," Community Regional Medical Center said in a statement.
"They were loved," hospital spokeswoman Mary Lisa Russell said.
Fojas, 31, was planning a second wedding ceremony in June in the Philippines. Her parents, identified on Filipino television only as Carlito and Sonia, told a news program how they received a series of confusing phone calls that hinted at the tragedy.
They told "24 Oras" on the GMA 7 network that they ultimately learned of their daughter's death through the media. The name of the fifth woman who died has not yet been released.
"What happened to my child?" Carlito said he asked his son-in-law, Carlo Moya, during a tearful Internet phone call.
"It's painful. What happened is really painful. We were surprised," Fojas' mother said, crying.
In Oakland, a human resources manager at the Fruitvale Healthcare Center said staff members were too distraught Monday to speak.
Arellano lives with her husband and toddler in a five-unit building across the street from the nursing home. Jasmin "Jazzy" de Guia, 34, a survivor whose condition was upgraded Monday from critical to serious, is also a nurse at the home.
Survivors Amalia Loyola, 48, and Mary Grace Guardiano, 42, are former employees. Loyola's condition was upgraded to serious Monday, and like de Guia, she was being treated at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center.
Guardiano and Arellano were reportedly taken to Stanford Medical Center, where they were treated for more minor injuries.
The limo driver, Orville Brown, told CNN on Monday the fire escalated when one survivor managed to open a rear door from the outside.
"Everything happened so fast," said Brown, 46. "When that back door opened, it just burst into flames."
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