Nightly News   |  May 06, 2013

Limo survivor recounts horrific fire

A girls’ night out to celebrate a wedding ended in tragedy when a limo carrying the nine women caught on fire. One of the survivors, Nelia Arellano, said the driver did not immediately stop the car as they crossed the San Mateo Bridge. NBC’s Miguel Almaguer reports.

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>>> good evening. since first word of this story arrived, everyone has wondered how it happened. how did five passengers die in the back of a stretch limousine ? how could a fire become that intense that quickly? and how did it move so fast? how is it all five could not get out, yet four others did, along with the driver. right now it's prom season, wedding season, and this is the kind of rental stretch limo you see on the streets of cities and towns all over this country. full of people en route to an event. it's why there are so many questions after this awful, staggering death toll from a single vehicle. we begin tonight with nbc's miguel almaguer in los angeles .

>> reporter: the scene was described by the coroner as one of the worst fatalities he's ever witnessed. a limousine carrying nine women, a girls' night out to celebrate a wedding, ended in tragedy when the car suddenly became engulfed in flames.

>> there was smoke.

>> reporter: 36-year-old nyla cried out to the driver.

>> there was already a fiernd stop the car, stop the car.

>> reporter: released from the hospital today, still in shock and bruised, she said flames shot out from underneath the rear seat. she got out, and tried to save her friends.

>> jasmine said, i cannot get out, help me. i cannot get out. so i tried to pull her out.

>> reporter: five women never made it out alive. among the dead, 31-year-old newlywed naria. her facebook page now filled with condolences.

>> that particular limo i have driven eight times.

>> reporter: orville brown thought his passengers wanted to smoke a cigarette.

>> at that point she said, no, smoke, smoke, smoke, pull over. i'm looking. i finally kind of -- you know, looked back a couple of times. i see the grief on her face.

>> reporter: seconds later, the 1999 lincoln town car was fully engulfed.

>> me personally, i feel that it may have been electrical. because, like i said, the car didn't blow up. we did not smell gas.

>> reporter: the limousine had a partition similar to this one through which the women tried to escape. the vehicle was designed to carry eight passengers. nine were inside. the california highway patrol says it could take weeks to determine the cause of the fire. tonight, no answers. just heartbreak.

>> i need to go back. i need to go back and save them, but the man said, no, you cannot go back anymore.

>> reporter: the limousine with the new bride inside was just five miles away from the last stop. the hotel where her husband was waiting. miguel almaguer, nbc news, los angeles .