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Limo Fire Mourners Asked Not To Place Memorials On San Mateo Bridge

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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)

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SAN MATEO (CBS SF) — The California Highway Patrol is asking those who want to honor the five women who were killed in a limousine fire on the San Mateo-Hayward Bridge last Saturday to refrain from putting memorial items on the bridge.

The massive fire erupted in the back of the limo around 10:10 p.m. as a group of nine women were heading across the bridge to Foster City.

The CHP shared condolences with the family and friends of the women who were celebrating the recent marriage of Neriza Fojas, 31, a former Bay Area resident who worked as a nurse at the Community Regional Medical Center in Fresno.

Five women perished in the car, while the driver and four other passengers were able to escape.

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.

The surviving women are Jasmine Desguia, 34, of San Jose; Mary Guardiano, 42, of Alameda; Nelia Arellano, 36, of Oakland; and Amalia Loyola, 48, of San Leandro.

Loyola and Desguia were taken to Santa Clara Valley Medical Center in San Jose and Guardiano and Arellano to Stanford Hospital.

As of Wednesday morning, Loyola remained at the hospital in fair condition. Desguia has been released, Valley Medical Center officials said.

The driver was not injured in the blaze.

CHP officials said community members who want to leave something to honor the victims cannot put items at the scene of the fatal incident.

Officials said it is unsafe and risks further harm.

“In times of emotional pain such as this, we are sensitive but we must also remain diligent in our mission of safety,” officials said in a statement Wednesday.

The CHP, along with the Foster City Fire Department, is investigating the deadly inferno that occurred while the women were being driven from Alameda to the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Foster City.

CHP Sgt. Diana McDermott said the investigation will center around what started the fire.

The state Public Utilities Commission, which regulates and licenses passenger carriers such as limos, said the limo that burst into flames was part of the fleet from Limo Stop, Inc., based out of San Francisco and San Jose.

The company has not had any previous contact with the regulatory agency, CPUC spokesman Chris Chow said.

However, commission officials are investigating if the company misrepresented the seating capacity of its vehicle to the CPUC. If so, it could be fined $7,500 per day of violation, Chow said.

The limo, a 1999 Lincoln Town Car stretch limousine, was listed to hold up to eight people. Nine people were riding inside at the time of the fire.

A fire extinguisher is not required in that type of vehicle, Chow said.

Chow said there are six other vehicles in the company’s fleet, including another eight-passenger vehicle.

Kultar Singh is listed as the company’s CEO. Singh, from an office San Jose on Wednesdsay morning said any comments about the incident would be deferred to his lawyer, Doug Sears, based out of Sacramento.

Sears, an attorney who on his website listed that he specializes in trucking, transportation and catastrophic injury cases, did not return calls seeking comment.

State Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, said he is putting together urgent legislation that would require these types of limousines to have a fire extinguisher on board and be regularly inspected by the PUC.

“No one could believe such a tragedy could occur,” Hill said Wednesday afternoon.

He said the bill, which he will formally introduce next week, would be ready for when the investigation reveals more about what caused the fire.

“I think we can say from what we have learned there are very few regulations or checks and inspections of limousine to verify they are safe,” Hill said.

He said it is important to have inspections and regulatory oversight on these cars even if they carry eight or fewer passengers—which he considers an arbitrary limit on behalf of the PUC.

Hill said he hopes his proposal would prevent something like this from happening again.

(Copyright 2013 by CBS San Francisco and Bay City News Service. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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