Vallejo area limo drivers express concern over fire

Posted in the Martinez Forum


Vallejo, CA

#1 May 8, 2013
Vallejo area limo drivers express concern over fire

There has been no mass cancellation of reservations among local limousine services in the wake of Saturday's deadly fire on the San Mateo Bridge in which five people perished. Local limo owners say they're a little surprised by that.

Most said, however, that this being the busiest time of years for limousines, people are asking them more than the usual number of questions.

"The National Limousine Association has asked us not to speculate on what might have happened," said one local limo business owner who asked not to be identified. "And, we've been on conference calls trying to see how this may impact our industry, but no one's canceled. There have been no adverse effects."

Unlike most of the others, limo owner Richard Sargis said there have been few of the probing questions he expected.

"Surprisingly, we haven't heard anything from clients inquiring about it; not a lot of people questioning our safety record, the car type," Sargis said. "I'm a little surprised more people haven't been asking that as the first question."

Sargis said his firm, All Occasion Limousine Service, has a car similar to the 1999 Lincoln Town Car stretch limo that caught fire Saturday and killed five women, including a new bride, who were out celebrating her recent wedding. It's a popular car, he said, but he's considering retiring his 2001 model, though it's "never given us any problems."

Prompt Limousine owner Tom Chacko said the heaviest limo "season" begins this time of year and though he expects "people will be more cautious," he doesn't anticipate a slowdown.

"We have calls for proms and other events asking what caused (the fire) and we tell them we don't know, but I don't think it will be a big factor," Chacko said. "People will still use limos. This is wedding and prom season now, and no one is canceling, but they're asking questions. How old is the vehicle? How safe is it? What's its capacity? They're mostly parents, and there is some concern."

Like Sargis, Chacko and the other operators interviewed Tuesday, said this is the first they've ever heard of anything like Saturday's tragedy.

"It could have been someone smoking," Chacko said. "And it was an older limousine, so maybe it was an electrical problem. Hopefully they'll find out so it doesn't happen again."

Vallejo Airporter owner Galic Waloo said people are aware of Saturday's tragedy and are asking how it happened and if his vehicles are safe.

"I check everything all the time and that's what I tell them," Waloo said. "But, I never close the middle window. That's for safety. They should have removable windows."

Sargis also suggests that limos should have removable windows or a fifth door to prevent people being trapped inside, as happened Saturday. And, he said he's as anxious to find out the cause of the tragedy as any of his clients.

"Maybe it's some factory defect we didn't know about," Sargis said. "I've spoken to several other operators, and everyone's shocked."

Sargis said he finds it "interesting" that there haven't been cancellations.

"It's not like airplanes when defects are discovered and everyone cancels flights on that type of airplane. I would kind of expect that, but I'm not seeing that at all," he said.

Sargis said he empathizes with driver Orville "Ricky" Brown, a Vallejo native and San Jose resident.

"I wouldn't want to have been the chauffeur in that instance," Sargis said. "I could understand him running away, not wanting to be blown up, but he didn't, and I think that's to his credit. I get nauseous just thinking about it."

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