By Bay City News Service
The San Mateo County coroner's office on Tuesday (May 7) released the names of the five women killed in a limousine fire on the San Mateo-Hayward Bridge on Saturday.
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 fire broke out at about 10 p.m. as the women were heading across the bridge to Foster City to celebrate the recent marriage of Fojas.
Four other women in the limo survived.
A spokeswoman for the Fruitvale Health Care Center in Oakland -- where eight of the nine women in the limo were present or former employees -- said the medical community has been hit hard by the fire.
"This is a very close-knit group of folks here, and we are just devastated," spokeswoman Annaliese Impink said. "This is a major loss," she said.
Two of the women who died, Balon and Alcantara, were still working at the health center at the time of their deaths. A family friend said Alcantara leaves behind a husband, a 14-year-old son and an 8-year-old daughter.
Impink said grief counselors are available at the center for the victims' colleagues and friends, and that efforts are being made to help the survivors and the victims' families.
"We're trying to figure out what their needs are and how best to support them in the coming weeks," she said.
The California Highway Patrol identified the four survivors as Jasmine Desguia, 34, of San Jose; Mary Guardiano, 42, of Alameda; Nelia Arellano, 36, of Oakland; and Amalia Loyola, 48, of San Leandro.
The women had gathered to celebrate the recent marriage of Neriza Fojas, a former Bay Area resident who worked as a nurse at the Community Regional Medical Center in Fresno, Impink said.
As they were riding in a 1999 Lincoln Town Car stretch limousine from the East Bay to the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Foster City, the rear of the vehicle ignited, and the flames quickly spread into the passenger compartment, according to authorities investigating the incident.
CHP Capt. Mike Maskarich said Monday that the limousine was licensed by the California Public Utilities Commission to carry "eight or fewer" passengers.
He said it is too early to tell whether the excess capacity contributed to the tragedy.
Community Regional Medical Center CEO Jack Chubb said Fojas and Estrera, who both worked at the medical center, were good friends and stellar nurses. "They were exemplary nurses who dedicated their lives to helping others," Chubb said. They were loved by "their patients, colleagues and staff," he added. "We will dearly miss these two."
The four women who survived the fire were taken to hospitals: two to Stanford Hospital and two to Santa Clara Valley Medical Center.
Valley Medical Center spokeswoman Joy Alexiou said Monday that both victims at that hospital were in serious condition.