Elderly women describe escaping limo fire


According to the ladies, there were 10 women inside the limo. The California Public Utilities Commission says it should have had no more than eight. Fortunately, besides a fine from the PUC, it may not matter much in this case because the fire was detected before the limo got on the road.

Bernice Dreyfus, 96, was the oldest passenger who escaped the inferno that completely destroyed the limo she and nine others were supposed to take to a birthday party in Sonoma.

"All of a sudden, she yelled 'fire' and you know, I can't tell you how fast 90-year-old ladies can get out of a limousine, but they did," Dreyfus said.

"I think it's a miracle that nobody got hurt," 90-year-old Elayne Lofchie said.

It was Lofchie's birthday celebration that everyone was headed to in Sonoma. She was in the front seat with the driver when he started yelling for everyone to get out.

"Everybody was calm, inside I don't know how they were, because I wasn't calm inside, let me tell you," Lofchie said.

The limo was a total loss, but no one was injured. The women say there were 10 of them total in the car, plus the driver. The PUC says the car is supposed to carry eight passengers maximum.

The owner of the limo company sent ABC7 News a copy of the initial reservation, which was made for eight passengers.

ABC7 News has learned that Claudius Oliveira, the owner of Towncar SF has been in trouble with the law in the past. Court documents show he was convicted of making threats and passing a bad check in a dispute with Clarindo Gomes, who runs another limo company. In 2010, Gomes sought a restraining order after he and his employees tried to collect an $1,800 debt from Oliveira.

"Bad words the whole time, cursing me and saying if you cross me I'm going to do the same thing to you, I'm going to chop your head off," Gomes said.

"The lady that the party was for has a caregiver, but her caregiver was going to drive her own car, without a doubt; I don't think the count was an issue," limo passenger Mary Chapman said.

An initial cause for the fire appears to be wires that overheated while the car sat idling.

The ladies not only got out OK, they made it to the birthday celebration in Sonoma, just a few hours late.

Walnut Creek police are investigating the fire, which happened Sunday in Rossmoor, and they are alerting the CHP who still have an open investigation into the fatal limo fire on the San Mateo Bridge. The ordeal was terrifying for the women involved but police say it was a vehicle fire with no injuries that happened on private property. They say that at this point, there is no indication any crime was committed.

ABC7 News reporter John Alston contributed to this story.

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