Exclusive: Mechanical failure caused fatal limo fire

June 5, 2013 7:29:40 PM PDT
ABC7 News has learned exclusively the cause of that fire that killed five women riding in a limousine on the San Mateo Bridge last month.

Witnesses say the back of the Lincoln towncar was extremely low to the ground while it was moving across the bridge the night of May 4. There were nine women on board, one more than the limo's permit says it was allowed to carry. All of the women worked together as nurses. One had just gotten married and they were on their way to a party to celebrate.

California Highway Patrol investigators have been examining the charred wreck at a towing lot in Redwood City. Multiple sources tell ABC7 News that the air springs in the rear of the limo somehow ruptured, setting off a domino effect that led to the fire.

Yusef Mustafa owns Royal Auto Repair, a garage that services limousines. He explained the sequence of events to ABC7 News.

"These are the air springs; so in other words, they carry the weight of the car," Mustafa said. "So when one of them has a rupture on it, the whole car drops down, basically almost on the tires. So when the car drops down, these parts of the drive line usually it will be hitting on this part right here and that will create a friction and it winds up a lot of heat."

"The car would be jumping like a horse," Mustafa continued. "If there's a load in it, it would be bottoming at the ground, which is I think what happened. It bottomed on the ground and unfortunately, the gas tank is right there. The car with the weight, it bounced down too hard, and ended up hitting the gas tank, which is right at this spot here. It might have hit the gas tank and then you see, when it hits the ground it will create a spark. There's a spark here and there's fuel going down. So it catches fire."

The CHP's official investigation into the accident is not over. Now that the cause of the fire is known, investigators for the CHP and San Mateo County District Attorney's Office will now have to determine whether there was any criminal negligence involved in the limo's maintenance.


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