By Chris Cooney
Bay City News Service
A limousine that caught on fire on the San Mateo-Hayward Bridge over the weekend as it carried nine women to a bridal party was only licensed to carry a maximum of eight passengers, the California Highway Patrol confirmed Monday.
Five of the nine women on board when flames and smoke spread through the rear of the passenger compartment at about 10:05 p.m. Saturday were unable to escape from the limo and died, San Mateo County coroner Robert Foucrault said.
Four managed to get out but suffered smoke inhalation and burns. They are recovering at area hospitals.
At a news conference Monday, CHP Capt. Mike Maskarich said the particular type of vehicle in which the women and a driver were traveling -- a white 1999 Lincoln Town Car limousine -- was only permitted to carry "eight or fewer people."
As part of a widening investigation into the incident, the CHP will be looking into whether any criminal allegations should be submitted to the district attorney's office. "Our report is merely fact-finding at this point," Maskarich said.
Foster City Fire Chief Michael Keefe said it is still to early to tell what caused the rear of the limousine to catch fire, engulfing the vehicle in flames in about 90 seconds. "We have no comment on the cause or origin of the fire at this point," he said.
One of the passengers alerted the driver that the limousine was filling with smoke, Maskarich said. The driver pulled over and got out of the vehicle, which was already covered in flames, he said.
Two rear passenger doors were quickly obstructed by fire, Keefe said, and at least one passenger who survived was believed to have escaped by crawling through the partition between the passenger and driver areas, and getting out a front door.
Foucrault said Sunday that the women were traveling from the East Bay to Foster City for a bridal celebration.
On Monday he confirmed that the bodies of the women who died in the blaze were crowded against the partition. It appeared as though they were trying to escape by crawling toward the front of the limousine, he said.
The coroner's office has not yet released the victims' names. Foucrault said his office would be using survivor statements and dental records to confirm the identities of the severely burned victims.
Toxicology reports will take two to three weeks to complete, Foucrault said.