CPUC looks into fatal limousine fire

This frame grab taken from video provided by Roxana and Carlos Guzman shows a Limo on fire Saturday, May 4, 2013, on the San Mateo-Hayward Bridge in San Francisco. Five dead female bodies were found pressed up against the partition behind the driver, where they apparently tried to escape the smoke and fire that kept them from the rear exits of the extended passenger compartment. (AP Photo/Roxana and Carlos Guzman)

May 9, 2013 9:28:23 PM PDT
The California Public Utilities Commission is looking into the horrific limonene fire that killed five women last weekend. The CPUC's regulation of limousines deals almost exclusively with making sure the companies have insurance coverage. When it comes to safety issues, it the agency will have a hard time enforcing any new significant changes.

"I think one of the issues is looking at where there are gaps in the regulatory coverage and examine if something needs to be done there," CPUC Commissioner Mark Ferron said.

Commissioners found out there are gaps when it comes to regulating limousines. They also discovered that doing something about them will be difficult.

Retired Gen. Jack Hagen fielded their questions. They heard that limos with 10 or fewer people aboard are not required to have fire extinguishers. If they were, Hagen told them, the trunk would be the only safe place to put the extinguishers, but that it wouldn't have helped Saturday night because the fire burned in the back of the limo.

So, how about storing it in the passenger compartment?

"You can't carry it in the car because you have to mount it someplace or else it becomes a missile and it's actually a bigger safety hazard than the fire is," Hagen told ABC7 News after the meeting.

Most of the questions focused on the lack of safety inspections for limos. Those with 10 or fewer people aboard are not required to undergo regular safety inspections.

Hagen says the CPUC would have a difficult time if the legislature passed a bill mandating inspections for all limos.

"No one in my section has the training nor the skill sets to do vehicle inspections," commissioner Catherine Sandoval said. "To step into this arena would be a significant increase in our mission which would require more people, more equipment and more training."

There about 10,000 limos licensed with the CPUC across the state. Many, like the one that caught on fire, are stretch limos, mostly town cars that have been modified with extended fuel and electrical lines.

Sandoval wondered if there is any oversight on that work.

"There is no system right now that provides the regulatory check of their work, is that correct," she asked.

Hagen says he expects the California Highway Patrol investigation to last about a month.

The federal Department of Transportation has stepped in to interview the attorney for the owner of Limo Stop, the company that operated the limousine that caught on fire.