By Laila Kearney
SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - A county coroner formally identified a bride and four friends on Tuesday who died over the weekend trapped inside a burning limousine on a bridge over San Francisco Bay, but said the cause and manner of their death was still under investigation.
New bride Neriza Fojas, 31, a native of the Philippines, and eight female friends were heading across the San Mateo-Hayward bridge on Saturday night to a party celebrating her recent wedding when the white stretch limousine they were riding in burst into flames.
Law enforcement officials say Fojas and four of her friends died as they tried desperately to escape the limo by crawling through a small opening in a partition between the passenger compartment and driver's seat.
Four other women got out of the car after it stopped on the San Mateo-Hayward bridge and survived. Two of them remained hospitalized on Tuesday.
In addition to Fojas, San Mateo County Coroner Robert Foucrault identified the deceased women as Michelle Estrera, 35, of Fresno and Anna Alcantara, 46, Felomina Geronga, 43, and Jennifer Balon 39, all of Alameda, California.
Foucrault said the cause and manner of their death remained under investigation pending toxicology tests and that a final report could take three to four weeks to complete.
Law enforcement officials say they don't yet know what caused the 1999 Town Car to catch fire at its rear end, pending an inspection of the limousine by mechanical experts and fire department investigators.
California Highway Patrol Captain Mike Maskarich told reporters on Monday there was no evidence that the limo had been involved in a collision or struck any debris in the road. He said it had been carrying one more passenger than the eight that had been authorized.
The five women died on the same day that a 26-year-old woman was killed after falling out of a bachelorette party bus onto a busy Kansas freeway and was struck by at least three vehicles.
(Writing and additional reporting by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Alden Bentley)