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Limo fire: Victim planned Manila hilltop wedding, father says

A woman killed over the weekend in a Bay Area limousine fire was going to have a wedding on a hilltop in the Philippines, her family said.

Neriza Fojas, 31, had already had a civil wedding ceremony in Las Vegas with her husband, Carlo Moya, but was planning another June 19 on a Manila hilltop, her father told the San Francisco Chronicle.

She was scheduled for a gown fitting and was expected to arrive in the Philippines on June 2.

PHOTOS: Fatal limo fire

Fojas was one of five women who perished when their 1999 Lincoln Town Car limousine burst into flames Saturday night on the San Mateo-Hayward Bridge.

The other victims were Michelle Estrera, 35, of Fresno; Jennifer Balon, 39, of Dublin. Calif.; Anna Alcantara, 46, of San Lorenzo; and Felomina Geronga, 43, of Alameda.

Other than Geronga, the close-knit Filipina friends were all nurses who had met while working at Fruitvale Healthcare Center in Oakland, where they bonded like "sisters," one survivor told a local television station.

The Saturday night inferno trapped them as they headed for a hotel bridal party for Fojas.

Balon leaves a 10-year-old daughter and 1-year-old son, her husband, John, told the Chronicle.

John Balon said survivor Nelia Arellano told him the rear passenger doors in the limousine were locked, forcing the women to attempt to escape through the partition window behind the driver's seat.

Alcantara leaves a 14-year-old son and 8-year-old daughter, her brother-in-law, Resty Padojino, told the Chronicle.

"We want to find out why the fire broke out, and why the driver reportedly did not help," Carlito Fojas, father of Neriza Fojas, told the Chronicle by phone Wednesday.

The limousine was permitted to carry only eight passengers, not nine, an official from the Public Utilities Commission said. The commission regulates limousines in California.

The limo driver, Orville Brown, told CNN he heard a knock on the glass partition separating the rear of the limo from the front where he sits.

The woman said “smoke,” Brown said. He said he assumed she was asking if she could smoke a cigarette in the limo. He said they were about four minutes from their destination and the company’s policy prohibits smoking inside the car.

About 30 seconds later, he said the woman knocked again.

“I just saw the anguish, grief on her face,” Brown said. “I started smelling smoke and started seeing smoke.”

Brown said he immediately stopped the car. By then, the glass partition was down and the women were trying to crawl through it to safety.

The five who died were found in a heap near the window, San Mateo County Coroner Robert J. Foucrault said. A relative of one of the victims said the limo’s back doors were locked.

Government officials from the United States and the Philippines took to social media this week to express condolences to the families.

“Condolences to the Fojas family in the Philippines and the U.S. and other nurses,” tweeted U.S. Ambassador to the Philippines Harry K. Thomas Jr.

The Philippines ambassador to the United States, Jose L. Cuisia Jr., said, "We join the rest of the Filipino Community in the US in prayer for the eternal repose of the souls of those who perished,” the Philippine Embassy tweeted.

The embassy followed by saying, “The embassy and the consulate general in San Francisco stand ready to extend any possible assistance to the victims and their families.”


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