Everyone knows that bachelorette parties are supposed to be fun. It’s the last night of single life for the bride-to-be and a perfect reason to let loose with your closest girlfriends. It’s a time to make memories and celebrate the new life that lies ahead. Unfortunately, for nine women crossing the San Francisco Bay in a rented limousine, the night turned out to be anything but celebratory.
According to the official report, a driver working for Limo Stop picked up the nine women in Oakland. He was supposed to drop them off at the Crowne Plaza Hotel, where the bachelorette party was to begin. Everything was just fine until the 1999 Lincoln Town Car began crossing the San Mateo-Hayward Bridge, when one of the women knocked on the partition window around 10p.m.
The limo’s driver, Oliver Brown, told police that one of the passengers alerted him smoke was filling the car. Brown pulled over on the side of the busy bridge and quickly got out. It was at that point he saw the back of the Town Car engulfed in flames. Five of the nine women were trapped in the smoldering limousine, three managed to fight their way out of a rear passenger door and another squeezed through the glass partition separating the driver and passengers. It took only 90 seconds for the limo fire to claim the lives of all five women.
Reaction to the Limo Fire Disaster
According to CHP Commander Mike Maskarich, this was the worst incident he has seen during his time on the police force. The four surviving women each experienced injuries, including smoke inhalation and varying degrees of burns. Police found that there was a floor-to-ceiling partition that separated the front and back of the Town Car, with only a sliding glass window for communication between driver and passenger. Commander Maskarich said that, due to the body position of all five deceased women, it was apparent they were trying to escape the flames of the limo fire.
“Any time we have a significant loss of life it’s very difficult, but given the particular nature of what’s transpired, it’s just beyond words,” said Maskarich.
In addition to the driver, several citizens had stopped to help free the women from the limo fire, but could not get to them in time.
What Caused the Limo Fire?
While the investigation is still ongoing, there are some serious issues facing Limo Stop and its liability related to last month’s fiery disaster. According to Commander Maskarich, the California Public Utilities Commission (PUC) had previously authorized the 1999 Lincoln Town Car to carry a maximum of eight passengers. On the night of the fire, there were nine women being driven by the Limo Stop automobile.
One week after the fire, a spokeswoman from CPUC told the media that the commission is now investigating whether Limo Stop knowingly lied about the limo’s seating capacity. If that is found to be true, the limousine company could face a $7,500 fine for every day the Town Car was in violation.
In addition, the CPUC requires all carriers to have a preventive maintenance program in place. As part of that program, the companies must go through a daily vehicle inspection and complete a checklist to ensure each limousine is in proper and safe condition for passengers. Carriers are also required to enroll in a safety education and training program, which focuses on emergency response and preparedness.
Danger in the Limo Industry
Statistics from the United States Department of Transportation reveal that five people died in three separate stretch limo accidents during 2010 and another 21 died in three stretch limo accidents during 2011. Experts believe that the limousine industry is poorly regulated because the main agency overseeing car safety doesn’t investigate all the small carrier businesses who make their own modifications to limos. Many of these modified limos are dangerous and violate multiple codes. In addition, many of the mandatory emergency requirements don’t apply to limousines. For example, buses must have emergency exits and trains are required to have emergency exit plans, while limousines aren’t even forced to have a fire extinguisher on board.
If you or a loved one have been injured as a result of someone else’s negligence, you may be entitled to seek compensation. It’s best to contact an experienced Bay Area personal injury lawyer to discuss your case. The San Francisco law office of Nelson C. Barry will fight to ensure you receive a fair compensation and see that the responsible party is held accountable. Call us today at (415) 587-0550 and schedule your free consultation.