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Report: Driver on phone before limo fire that killed 5 nurses

By Associated Press

LAST UPDATED: 10:09 a.m. HST, Jul 21, 2013

REDWOOD CITY, Calif. >> The estranged wife of the Northern California limousine driver who was behind the wheel when a fire in the vehicle killed five women celebrating a wedding in May said he had been arguing with her on the phone moments before the blaze, according to a newspaper report Sunday.

Rachel "Raquel" Hernandez-Brown told the San Jose Mercury News that during their shouting match Orville Brown turned up the music in the limo so his passengers couldn't hear the tense conversation.

"The music was really loud. And I kept yelling, 'I can't hear you. Turn it down,'" Hernandez-Brown told the paper. "I said, 'You're not paying attention.' You know, like, get off the phone. Stop calling me."

One of the nine nurses in the vehicle said she banged on the partition to warn the driver that the back of the limo was filling with smoke. Brown told authorities that he initially misunderstood the warning as a request to smoke a cigarette and kept driving.

Hernandez-Brown, in her first comments about the May 4 vehicle fire, said Brown called moments after getting out of the limo to tell her it was ablaze.

"He was continuously calling me back," she told the Mercury News. "I said, 'Well, what made you call me first?' He said, 'Well, I don't know, I didn't know who else to call.'"

The couple have four children and separated about a month before the fire on the San Mateo Bridge. Hernandez-Brown called police hours before the blaze to report that Brown had kicked and dented her car during an argument. He had left the scene before police arrived.

"We need to follow up on this," Karen Guidotti, chief deputy San Mateo County district attorney told the newspaper when told of its finding. Police had not previously spoken with Hernandez-Brown.

The newspaper reported that the California Highway Patrol was expected to announce the cause of the fire soon, and investigators had focused on friction from the drive shaft.

CHP spokesman Art Montiel told The Associated Press today that he hadn't see the paper's report and said "there was no update" on its investigation.

The nine nurses had hired the 1999 Lincoln Town Car to celebrate the recent wedding of Neriza Fojas, one of the five women who died.

Relatives in Hawaii said Fojas lived in Hawaii while she reviewed for her nursing exam, then took a job in Oakland for two years before moving to Fresno about a year ago.

The driver told the newspaper that he was "not authorized to talk to any more reporters, no more interviews." The Associated Press couldn't reach Brown on Sunday.

In interviews with media shortly after the fire, Brown said he did "everything he could do" to help save the passengers.

One of the survivors, a sobbing Nelia Arellano, told KGO-TV a few days after the fire that Brown "didn't do anything" to help the women escape the car. In a May 7 interview, she told NBC Bay Area that Brown was on the phone.

"Open the door. Open the door," Brown said the women were yelling. "But he didn't do anything. He was on the phone."

Brown's brother, Lewis Brown, an attorney based in Vallejo denied to NBC Bay Area that the driver was on the phone. Lewis Brown said the women couldn't see through the closed partition to know whether he was on the phone.

"He was not on the phone," Lewis Brown told NBC Bay Area on May 7.

Lewis Brown's voicemail box said it was full and not accepting messages Sunday.

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MillionMonkeys wrote:
If people don't use their brains to stop using the phone while driving, maybe technology should be developed/used to identify those who are talking/texting/emailing while driving.
on July 21,2013 | 09:05AM
68Crusader wrote:
Police have access to LUD (Local use data) for one's cellphone. Helps confirm cellphone use when a ticket is issued.
on July 21,2013 | 04:02PM
residenttaxpayer wrote:
If the limo had a fire extinguisher the odds for survival would have increased greatly...
on July 21,2013 | 09:56AM
allie wrote:
yikes! more horror
on July 21,2013 | 10:44AM
sailfish1 wrote:
Knowing the driver's cell phone number, they can easily find out if he was on his cell phone at that time.
on July 21,2013 | 12:32PM
saywhatyouthink wrote:
if thats the case, he may be on his way to jail.
on July 21,2013 | 05:11PM
tutulois wrote:
Stupidity kills !
on July 21,2013 | 12:49PM
aomohoa wrote:
He did everything wrong. He is a liar, a coward and basically a murderer!
on July 21,2013 | 01:02PM
saywhatyouthink wrote:
this dirt bag had an obligation to try and save those women. he made no attempt to help them, as if he was a bystander. now it sounds like he wasn't paying attention to the situation and could have stopped sooner and saved them. negligent homicide sounds appropriate.
on July 21,2013 | 05:10PM
Mythman wrote:
Aholes are everywhere....
on July 21,2013 | 05:12PM
pueouhane wrote:
Hang 'em high!
on July 22,2013 | 05:19AM
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