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Limo fire: Coroner identifies dead women

Human Interest

OAKLAND — The San Mateo county coroner’s office on Tuesday identified the five women killed on the San Mateo-Hayward Bridge when their limousine became engulfed in flames while traveling to a wedding celebration.

They are: Neriza Fojas, 31, and Michelle Estrera, 35, of Fresno; Jennifer Balon, 39, of Dublin; Anna Alcantara, 46, of San Lorenzo; and Felomina Geronga, 43, of Alameda. Four other passengers survived, as did the driver.

Other than Geronga, the close-knit Filipina friends were all nurses who had met while working at Oakland’s Fruitvale Healthcare Center, bonding like “sisters,” one survivor told a local television station.

The Saturday night inferno trapped them as they headed for a hotel bridal party for Fojas, who had recently married but was planning to return to her native Philippines next month for a second ceremony.

Balon, who went by “Jenni,” leaves a 10-year-old daughter and 1-year-old son, her husband, John Balon, told the San Francisco Chronicle.

“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.”

Balon told the paper that one of the fire survivors, Nelia Arrellano, 36, said the limousine’s doors were locked when the women tried to escape a fire that appears to have begun in the rear of the vehicle. The five who perished were found in a heap near the window, San Mateo County Coroner Robert J. Foucrault said.

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.

A spokesman for the California Public Utilities Commission, which regulates limousines, said they are not required to carry fire extinguishers.

The limo driver, Orville Brown, told CNN on Monday that 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."

Alcantara leaves a 14-year-old son and 8-year-old daughter, her brother-in-law, Rusty Padojino, told the Chronicle.

“We can only speculate about the condition she was in,” he said. “That's the hardest thing for us right now — how she suffered. We can't understand.”

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lee.romney@latimes.com 

joseph.serna@latimes.com

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