(Roxana and Carlos Guzman via AP)

Calif. Limo Drive on Phone Before Fire

The driver's wife says he may have been distracted and unable to help when the car burst into flames.

(Roxana and Carlos Guzman via AP)

Five female bodies were found pressed up against the partition behind the driver after fire engulfed a limo in May 2013.

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The man driving a limousine in Northern California that burst into flames and killed five women was on the phone moments before the fatal fire, arguing with his estranged wife, who suggested he may have been distracted while driving.

Rachel Hernandez-Brown said the driver, Orville Brown, had turned up the music in the vehicle so the nine women in the back could not hear the two arguing, according to the San Jose Mercury News.

"The music was really loud. And I kept yelling, 'I can't hear you. Turn it down,'" she said. "I said, 'You're not paying attention ... I'd hate to have a limo driver like you."

[MORE: Limo Driver on Phone Before Fatal Fire]

The news raises concern about whether Brown was too distracted to respond to the women when they asked for help.

On May 4, the limousine was carrying the women to a wedding celebration for one of the women who was recently married. The car caught fire on the San Mateo-Hayward Bridge near San Francisco when the back began to fill with smoke. Four of the women were able to crawl out of the car through the partition, but five were trapped inside the blaze and died, including the new bride.

One of the women who survived said Brown, 46, did nothing to help the women escape. Brown, the only person who escaped without injuries, maintains he did everything possible to help the women and that someone from another car eventually opened one of the car's back doors.

 

Brown has said that when the women banged on the partition to tell him the car was filling with smoke, he misunderstood it as a question about whether they could smoke a cigarette, so he kept driving.

"Open the door. Open the door," Nelia Arellano remembered telling Brown, according to a local NBC affiliate. "But he didn't do anything. He was on the phone."

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After the limousine caught on fire, Hernandez-Brown said Brown called her before anyone else, to tell her what was happening.

"My mom, I, everyone in my family were like, gosh, what made him not call the cops right away?" Hernandez-Brown said in her interview.

Karen Guidotti, chief deputy San Mateo County district attorney, told the San Jose Mercury News that authorities will be following up on the interview. Police The California Highway Patrol, the state's law enforcement agency that has jurisdiction of its highways, was expected to soon release a report on the cause of the fire, but said last week that they must look into Hernandez-Brown's claims before concluding the investigation, the San Jose Mercury News reported.

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