A Limousine, A Wedding Party, 5 Deaths, A Tragedy on A Bridge

It was to be a fun, celebratory, fabulous night celebrating a recent wedding with friends by taking a limousine ride to a gala evening at a local hotel outside San Francisco. Instead, the new bride and four of her best friends died on the night of May 4 when a flash fire broke out inside the moving limousine, causing them to be overcome by dense smoke and flames.

The horrific fire spared four other women in the bridal party after they were able to somehow escape from the burning stretch 1999 Lincoln Town Car limousine, according to a story in The (San Jose, Calif.) Mercury News. The blaze broke out in the moving limousine just as it was crossing the San Mateo Bridge. It took some 12 minutes before firefighters arrived to fight the fire that was consuming the 28-foot-long vehicle, according to reports. The driver of the vehicle escaped the blaze.

In addition to capturing headlines due to the tragedy, the incident also raises many questions which will likely be taken up by police accident investigators, attorneys and others as they dissect what happened and why it occurred.

“It wasn’t clear what sparked the fire, but it seems to have started in the rear of the vehicle and then spread quickly,” the paper reported. “The driver managed to pull over the limo, but only four of the passengers were able to escape, police said.”

A follow-up story by The Mercury News on May 8 disclosed that the limousine in question wasn’t required to go through any kind of scheduled state safety inspections because it was licensed to carry fewer than 10 people. Such inspections are required in California every 13 months for vehicles that carry more than 10 passengers, including large limos, airport shuttles and buses, the story said.

At the same time, amazingly, the limo wasn’t even required to carry an on-board fire extinguisher, the story reported.

“Like most stretch limos, the 1999 Lincoln Town Car had been modified — cut in half, its fuel and electrical lines severed and rebuilt with a large passenger compartment in the middle,” the paper reported. “The inspection loophole – and the lack of fire extinguisher requirements – raised new concerns … as authorities continued what they say will be a lengthy investigation into what caused … [the] horrific inferno. And it provided little comfort during the heart of the spring prom and graduation season to people asking just how safe are California’s limos.”

One state legislator in California has already announced that he will introduce a bill “requiring fire extinguishers in limos and would also explore why the cars carrying 10 or fewer people, including the driver, are not inspected,” the story said.

One transportation expert interviewed by The Mercury News, Clarence Ditlow, the executive director of the Center for Auto Safety, which was founded by consumer advocate Ralph Nader, called the limousine business “a very under-regulated industry.”

Investigators are already looking at the vehicle that burned and at the fact that it was licensed to only carry eight passengers, according to The Mercury News. That night, there were nine passengers in the extended rear of the limo.

The California PUC issued recommendations in 2009 suggesting that prospective limo passengers should always do some basic research to be sure they are dealing with a reputable and safe company when hiring such a vehicle. Among the PUC’s recommendations are to shop carefully for a limo provider by inquiring about the vehicle’s capacity and ensuring it legally meets your needs.

Also recommended is that renters check to be sure that the limo operator is licensed by the agency by calling or checking the PUC’s website and that the company has liability insurance. Renters should also be sure that the charter-party carrier (TCP) number is displayed on the limousine, which designates that the vehicle is definitely registered with the state PUC.

The tragedy in cases like this one is that this incident, the tragic deaths of five female passengers and the serious injuries suffered by the four survivors, could have happened in a limousine anywhere in the United States.

While investigators painstakingly work to recreate what happened inside the stretch limo on that California bridge, others will likely be looking at whether new, more stringent regulations are needed for modified vehicles that carry paying passengers. Certainly the issue of a lack of mandated fire extinguishers and the lack of mandatory safety inspections will also be examined.

Those are the kinds of issues that skilled attorneys will be diving into if lawsuits are filed in this case on behalf of the dead victims and the passengers who survived.

One minute a group of celebratory friends are heading in a stretch limousine to a bridal shower, and the next instant five women are dead and another four women are hurt after a flash fire ignites the vehicle’s interior.

These kinds of incidents and injuries happen every day when innocent victims are hurt in vehicle accidents through no fault of their own due to the actions or indifference of others.

That’s where having a legal team on your side that uncovers every fact to bolster your case and maximize your damage award is key.

We here at MyPhillyLawyer stand ready to assist you with your legal case if you or a loved one is ever seriously injured in a vehicle incident or accident anywhere in the United States. We represent the families of victims who die in such tragedies as well, to ensure that their families receive every penny of damages that they are eligible to receive.

Call MyPhillyLawyer at 215-227-2727  or toll-free at  1-866-920-0352  anytime and our experienced, compassionate, aggressive team of attorneys and support staff will be there for you and your family every step of the way as we manage your case through the legal system.

When Winning Matters Most, Call MyPhillyLawyer.