|Limo Fire Survivor Says Driver 'Didn't Do Anything' to Help|
|By KATIE KINDELAN, ALYSSA NEWCOMB (@AlyssaNewcomb) and ANTHONY CASTELLANO (@AntCastellano)||May 7, 2013, 9:53 AM|
One of the women who survived a weekend limousine fire, killing a bride and four of her friends celebrating her wedding, says the driver did too little to save her friends, which he has denied.
"When he get out from that car, he just opened the door, that's all he did," Nelia Arellano, 36, told ABC News affiliate KGO-TV. "I even ask the driver, 'Open the door, open the door.' He didn't do anything.
"I even ask him, 'Help me, help me,' because I bring out my head from that compartment and say, 'Help me,' so I could squeeze myself over there and slide myself," she said Monday.
But limousine driver Orville Brown has a different story, saying that he did everything he could to save his passengers.
"I don't know what we could have done differently to save them," Brown said in an interview.
READ MORE: Grim Task of Identifying 5 Limo Fire Victims
Brown, 46, was driving a 1999 Lincoln Town Car limousine Saturday night when it burst into flames as it crossed the San Mateo-Hayward Bridge near San Francisco.
Arellano, one of the four surviving passengers, says she tapped on the partition to alert Brown to the inferno building in the back of the limo where she and eight other women were celebrating the recent nuptials of Neriza Fojas, who died in the blaze.
"I said, 'There's already a fire. Stop the car. Stop the car,'" Arellano, 36, told KGO.
Brown told the San Francisco Chronicle he believed the tapping on the partition was the women asking to smoke.
When he finally pulled over, he helped pull Arellano and the other survivors through the limo's 3 foot by 1 ½-foot partition and out the front door, according to The Associated Press.
Three good Samaritans, including an off-duty California Highway Patrol sergeant, also jumped in to assist.
"Two cars helped us," Arellano recalled. "I said, 'I need to go back and save them,' but the man said, 'No, you cannot go back anymore.'"
Brown, who escaped unharmed, said one of the survivors did go back to the limo and opened a door, possibly inflaming the fire by providing oxygen.
"When they opened the door, that let the fire get oxygen, that oxygenated the fire, it allowed oxygen to get to the fire and that fire spread so fast," Brown told KGO, noting there was no explosion or boom along with the fire.
Brown has said in interviews he believes the cause of the fire was electrical, noting it, "could have been smoldering for days." Authorities have said it is too soon to pinpoint the cause.
The victims' bodies were found huddled near the partition separating the driver's section of the car and the rear passenger area, suggesting they were trying to escape the fire, according to San Mateo County Coroner Robert Foucrault.
Fojas, 31, and a second dead passenger, Michelle Estrera, were both nurses at Community Regional Medical Center in Fresno, Calif.
Fojas was recently married in the United States and was planning a second ceremony in the Philippines next month. Fojas and her friends were on their way to the Crowne Plaza Hotel for her bridal shower, where her husband was waiting, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.
Another dead passenger, identified by KGO as Jenny Balon, was a 39-year-old mother of two children.
Her husband, John Balon, says he was told by Arellano that just prior to the fire, smoke poured in from the back of the limo cabin.
"Jenny was all the way back so she wasn't able to pull her out before the car was engulfed in flames," he told KGO.
The three survivors hospitalized were identified as Jasmine Desguia, 34, of San Jose; Mary Guardiano, 42, of Alameda; and Amalia Loyola, 48, of San Leandro. Arellano Oakland, was treated and released.
California Highway Patrol Capt. Mike Maskarich said the limousine was over capacity Saturday night.
"This particular vehicle was licensed to carry eight or fewer passengers. As we know, there were nine people in this vehicle," he said.
The California Highway Patrol is expected to officially release the names of all five victims involved in the limousine fire tragedy today.