That May 5 limousine fire on the San Mateo Bridge that killed five women remains a tragic mystery to many. How did the driver not pull over and immediately get the doors open? Why didn't he pull over sooner? Well, some reporters at the Oakland Tribune got new details from the driver's estranged wife, who says she was on the phone with him right before the fire started.

The driver, Orville "Ricky" Brown, was arguing with his wife, Rachel "Raquel" Hernandez-Brown, and she says he was "upset and trying to make up after a violent outburst investigated by police earlier in the day." She also says that he turned the volume of the music up in the back of the limo so that the nine women couldn't hear him on the phone. Hernandez-Brown says she kept yelling "I can't hear you" to Brown, and said, "I'd hate to have a limo driver like you."

Shortly thereafter, one of the women in back began banging on the partition to tell Brown about the smoke filling the vehicle. Brown has previously told reporters that he misunderstood and thought that the woman was asking if she could smoke, and that it took another 90 seconds before he realized the limo was on fire.

Hernandez-Brown also says that Brown called her back immediately after he exited the burning vehicle, possibly before he dialed 911 — it took five minutes before he made the 911 call. And the last thing he did before leaving the bridge that night was to send a video of the smoldering wreckage to Hernandez-Brown, still only focusing on himself and the danger he was in. He texted, "Remember this could off [sic] put me in the ground. Think about it n Pray bfr u lay down. I'm praying for all ya'll. love u Mrs. BROWN"

According to investigators, the cause of the fire was a ruptured air spring that caused the rear of the limo to sag, leading to friction that sparked into flames. The victims were likely trapped by child locks in the back of the limo, and the four survivors managed to escape through the partition at the front. Someone managed to open a back door from the outside, however it was too late as the fire by then had engulfed the rear of the vehicle.

Survivor Neila Arellano claimed in a TV interview that Brown "didn't want to listen" to their cries for help, and this new detail about the cell phone calls to his wife paint a picture of a man who may have been too distracted with his personal life to recognize what was going on.


Previous coverage of the San Mateo Bridge limo fire.