The Herald Bulletin

Afternoon Update

Nation & World

May 7, 2013

Limo driver: Fire took three minutes to claim five lives

REDWOOD CITY, Calif. — First came the tapping. Over the blasting music, limo driver Orville Brown heard someone in the backseat crowd of partying women knock on the partition behind him, saying something about smoke. No smoking allowed, he told them.

Then the taps turned to urgent knocks, and someone screamed "Smoke, smoke" and "Pull over!"

In just a few fleeting moments, five of the women celebrating a girls' night out were killed by flames that overtook the luxury car with terrifying speed.

As smoke thickened in the passenger compartment, Brown pulled the white stretch limo to a stop on a bridge over San Francisco Bay and started pulling women out through the partition that separated him from his passengers.

Three good Samaritans, including a firefighter, stopped to help. The first woman who got out ran to the back and yanked open a door, but Brown said it was already too late.

"I knew it wasn't a good scene. I figured with all that fire that they were gone, man," Brown said. "There were just so many flames. Within maybe 90 seconds, the car was fully engulfed."

From the first tap on the window until the rear of car became an inferno couldn't have taken more than three minutes, Brown told the San Francisco Chronicle.

Authorities searched for answers Monday, hoping to learn what sparked the blaze and why five of the victims could not escape the fast-spreading flames.

The women who were killed in the Saturday night blaze were found pressed up against the partition, apparently because smoke and fire kept them from the rear exits of the extended passenger compartment.

The position of the bodies suggested they were trying to get away from the fire, said San Mateo County Coroner Robert Foucrault. His office planned to begin autopsies later Monday.

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