Limousine emergency exit may have saved five women from fiery death

BLUE ASH - The five women who died when their limousine burst into flames might have escaped if the limo had an emergency exit. But smaller limos aren't required to have one, a local limo service operator told 9 On Your Side

"I cannot think of a worse way to die than to be burned alive on an occasion that's supposed to be one of the happiest days of your life," said Tom Muehlenkamp, who owns and operates Motortoys Limousine Service in Blue Ash.

Investigators are trying to determine why the back of the Lincoln Town Car burst into flames. It was packed with young women celebrating with a bride Saturday on a San Francisco Bay bridge.

The driver and four women escaped. The newlywed was among the five victims.

There was only one way for the passengers to get out – the two doors in the rear.  The limo had two front doors, but a partition separated the driver and the passengers. The five victims were clustered behind the partition, officials said. 

"The vehicle in question was a 10-passenger Town Car, and 10-passenger vehicles don't have to have emergency exits," Muehlenkamp said.

Muehlenkamp said if a limo can carry 15 people or more an emergency exit must be installed. But that is beyond the owner-operator's control.

"You have to have a special license to build limousines. You just can't make your own because it's regulated," Muehlenkamp said.

Emergency exits can exist as a removable window or even a sunroof large enough for a person to fit through.

Muehlenkamp thinks the women who died in San Francisco would have had a fighting chance if there was another way to get out of the car.

"If any good is going to come out of this, maybe it will be a change in the rules. I just think there should be emergency exits in all of the smaller vehicles," Muehlenkamp said.

Investigators say the vehicle that caught fire in California was only authorized to carry up to eight passengers. But they're not commenting on whether the overcrowding may have been a factor in the deaths.

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