CRMC nurses feeling guilt after deadly limousine fire

May 7, 2013 12:00:00 AM PDT
Coroners have now identified all five victims killed in a limousine fire last weekend on the San Mateo Bridge that ended what should've been a joyful night.

Two of then we know are from Fresno. Neriza Fojas and Michelle Estrera were among the victims.

Grief has fallen on dozens of their fellow nurses, and on a family spread across two continents.

Fojas was a newlywed with a second wedding ceremony just weeks away in the Philippines.

Instead of a wedding, her parents are now planning a funeral. Her co-workers here in Fresno are also feeling grief, and even a little guilt.

Trauma nurses deal with other people's tragedies every day. But for the past few days, staff members at Community Regional Medical Center have endured their own emotional trauma.

This limousine fire killed two CRMC trauma nurses, and it's weighing heavy on many minds.

"Very melancholy on the units," said chief nursing officer Karen Buckley. "And it's something that we as nurses, we have to put that face on when we go into the patient's room and make sure we don't stress the patients out."

Buckley describes Fojas and Estrera as best friends. Both women worked Friday, punched out and went to the Bay Area to celebrate Fojas' recent wedding.

The Filippino native was planning a second ceremony back home. Her parents told a local news outlet they'd just recently spoken to her by Skype.

"She told me about the gift she got me for Mother's Day," her mother said. "I said thank you."

Tears flowed in the Bay Area as well. Jenny Balon's husband John says his daughter -- who turned ten on the day her mother died -- is still working on paintings to give her on mother's day. His son still reaches for the phone.

"He said we have to call mommy because he wants to talk to her," Balon said.

CRMC made the call to its grief counselors to help nurses work through their emotions. Many had asked for time off to attend the bridal shower, but only Fojas and Estrera were allowed to go. The rest are living with the fact they avoided the fate of their friends.

"It's kind of that survivor guilt," Buckley said. "We're working through some of that as well."

Estrera worked at CRMC for four years. Fojas had been there three years.

Her parents say her husband is still planning to make his trip to the Philippines only now he'll be delivering her ashes.


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