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Limo In Deadly San Mateo Bridge Fire Was Part Of Nationwide Recall

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Firefighters on the scene of a fatal limousine fire on the San Mateo Bridge on May 4, 2013. (CBS)

Firefighters on the scene of a fatal limousine fire on the San Mateo Bridge on May 4, 2013. (CBS)

HollyQuan20100908_KCBS_0017r Holly Quan
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SAN FRANCISCO (KCBS) – The limousine which caught fire on the San Mateo-Hayward Bridge, killing five of nine passengers on board, was part of a nationwide recall because of issues with load limits on tires.

The California Highway Patrol said it could be weeks before it’s firmly established what caused the fire on the modified Lincoln Town Car.

In 2001, Ford and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recalled 10,000 1998-2001 Lincoln Town Cars stretched over 60 in. because the load that could be piled into the extended vehicle could exceed the limit for the tires.

Tuesday, the San Mateo County Coroner’s Office confirmed the identities of the five women killed in the fire.  The victims were identified as Jennifer Balon, 39, of Dublin; Anna Alcantara, 46, of San Lorenzo; Michelle Estrera, 35, of Fresno; Neriza Fojas, 31, of Monterey, and Felomina Geronga, 43, of Alameda.

Fojas and Balon had been previously identified by family members. Estrera was identified by her employer.

They were among nine women celebrating Fojas’ recent wedding when their limo caught fire. Four of the women  escaped with injuries along with the driver who was not hurt.

Published reports have quoted a witness as saying the back end of the limo was riding alarmingly low as it crossed the bridge westbound, just before the flames broke out.

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“How is the load distributed in the vehicle? Maybe there was extra stuff in the trunk besides the passengers. Did some part of the suspension fail, was that increasing the load on the axle and wheel bearings? Those all could be factors,” suggested Keith Friedman, a car safety expert and fire inspector for Friedman Research in Santa Barbara.

“The wheel bearings overheat,” he explained. “And they get the tire on fire and then the tire is then burning and propagates to the wheel well.”

Lincoln limos are typically altered by QVMs – Qualified Vehicle Modifiers, certified by Ford to do the work. There are, however, shops not certified – whose work is much less expensive for limo companies looking for a good deal.

“There are builders out there who as body shops will take a car and stretch it beyond the certified weight limitations,” warned Mike McKiernan with Eagle Coach, an Ohio-based QVM. “I wouldn’t want to have my children ride in a car that’s not built by a QVM.”

(Copyright 2013 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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