The limousine that burst into flames and killed five women in Northern California last month wasn’t required to undergo a state safety inspection. The limousine burst into flames on the San Mateo Bridge on a Saturday night. Four passengers and the driver survived the fire. The women were headed into San Francisco to celebrate the wedding of Neriza Fojas, who died in the blaze. The cause of the fire, which was captured on camera, is still under investigation. The four survivors managed to get through the partition in the vehicle between the driver and passenger. The driver had pulled over and climbed out of the vehicle. The women killed were found pressed up against the partition.
The state Public Utilities Commission (PUC) had authorized the vehicle to carry eight or fewer passengers, but it had nine on the night of the deadly fire. Officials say it’s too early in the investigation to say whether overcrowding may have been a factor. The PUC is looking into whether the operator of the limo, Limo Stop, willfully misrepresented the seating capacity to the agency. If so, Limo Stop could be penalized $7,500 for each day it was in violation. Limo Stop, which is licensed, has seven vehicles with a seating capacity of up to eight passengers listed with the commission. There had been no previous enforcement actions against the owner.
The CPUC requires that all carriers have a preventive maintenance program and maintain a daily vehicle inspection report. Carriers also certify that they are have or are enrolled in a safety education and training program. Requirements for emergency exits only apply to buses. Limousines are not required to have fire extinguishers. Like most stretch limos, the 1999 Lincoln Town Car involved in this incident had been modified — cut in half, its fuel and electrical lines severed and rebuilt with a large passenger compartment in the middle. But since the car was licensed to carry fewer than 10 people, California doesn’t require routine safety inspections. Such inspections are required every 13 months for larger limousines, airport shuttles and buses.
Sources: San Jose Mercury News and Insurance Journal
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