Agency cuts fine for limo company in fatal fire

The Associated PressJuly 17, 2014 

— A California commission responsible for transportation safety has reduced the fine it levied against a limousine company involved in a fire that killed five passengers from $20,000 to $5,000, a news organization reported Thursday.

The 75 percent reduction resulted from a settlement the California Public Utilities Commission reached with Limo Stop in April after the Burlingame company challenged the original amount, claiming that investigators had failed to prove that some of the violations on which they based the fine had contributed to the deaths, the Bay Area News Group reported (http://bit.ly/1zOCO9R ).

State Sen. Jerry Hill, who represents the area where both the limousine accident and a 2010 gas pipeline explosion that killed eight people and also was subject to commission oversight occurred, said the fine was too light. "Those fines should have been much higher," he told the Bay Area News Group.

Commission representatives told television station KNTV (http://bit.ly/1tc4wIZ) that the settlement was proper, noting that the agreement was reached at the request of an administrative judge and that prosecutors had declined to bring criminal charges against Limo Stop.

A converted Lincoln Town Car owned and operated by Limo Stop erupted in flames on a bridge south of San Francisco in May 2013. A newlywed bride and four of her girlfriends, all nurses, were trapped and died in the blaze. Four other friends inside the limo and the driver survived.

The California Highway Patrol concluded last year that the fire was caused by a catastrophic failure of the vehicle's rear suspension system that ignited the carpeting in the rear passenger compartment.

In calculating the original fine, state investigators said the Town Car had been carrying two more passengers than it was legally supposed to and that Limo Stop had failed to subject all its drivers to mandatory alcohol and drug tests. The commission at first proposed cutting the amount in half, to $10,000 if the company remained violation for three years, the News Group said, and then dropped it by half again when Limo Stop continued to fight.

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