Remembering the victims of that tragic limousine accident
Filipino nurses are in the spotlight once again following the tragic death of five Filipino immigrant nurses in California’s San Mateo Bridge two weeks ago.
Nine Filipino female nurses were on their way to a bachelorette party when the white limousine they were riding in burst into flames. Five of the nurses were trapped inside and died; four managed to escape.
An investigation is still being conducted to determine the cause of the accident.
Most of these nurses arrived in the United States through petitions by US employers. When I saw the photographs of the nurses in the limousine accident in our bay area newspaper, it dawned on me that I was their legal counsel many years ago in connection with their employment-based immigrant visas. These nurses arrived in the US after being petitioned by an employer based in Oakland, California.
Just like other immigrant nurses, after finishing their initial contracts with their petitioning employer, they transferred to other employers or hospitals. Although working in different places, the nurses apparently kept in touch, developing strong bonds and friendships. The nine Oakland nurses celebrated each other’s milestones. At the time of the accident, they gathered to celebrate the forthcoming wedding of Neri Fojas, one of the fatalities.
Driver’s negligence raised
The survivors blamed the driver of the limousine for not pulling over soon enough to save all of them from the fire. The driver said he got the wrong message from one of the passenger who said something about smoke. He said, “I told them that there is no smoking inside the car.” Instead of pulling over, he continued to drive until the emergency tapping on the driver’s window by the nurses and their cries to stop the car was finally heard. By that time, it was too late.
Whether or not it was a miscommunication on the part of the driver and the nurse, the fact remains that after the driver got off the car, he was seen standing outside the car and making a phone call to report the emergency. The investigation is still on going, and the findings that will soon be released to determine whether he has potential liabilities.
Sorrow for the children
The Philippine Consulate General in San Francisco held a Memorial Service for the nurses who died on May 10. I attended the service to give my respects to the family. The hall was full. In attendance were politicians, businessmen, coworkers, former employers and nurses, including almost all the survivors and the families of those who died. Taking a seat, I noticed a boy hugging a stuff toy walk into the room crying. He was looking for his mother. The grieving dad was holding him most of the time and was comforting the child. This was the moment when I, myself, felt the depth of pain being experienced by the surviving family members specially the children who were left behind.
It was during the emotional service, that I recalled those early years when these nurses first obtained their green cards. Prior to 2008, registered nurses from the Philippines did not have to wait as long as they are required to today to get a US immigrant visa. Then, the demand for nurses was very high and the turn-around to get visas for nurses then was less than one year. For those who were in the US at that time, the adjustment of status to immigrant for nurses took only a few months, if not weeks. At that time, many Filipinos who aspired to live and work in the US took a second career in nursing to be able to get the immigrant visa faster.
The nurses who were involved in the tragic limousine accident came with that wave. But they had taken the nursing career to heart and took on challenging jobs in different hospitals. They were pre-2008 or preretrogression nurses who who did not have to wait long to get their visas. Immediately, upon approval of their visas, their spouses and minor children also obtained their visas. This was their luck at that time. After 2008, and up to this day, nurses have to wait five or more years to obtain the immigrant visas.
It is unfortunate that the five nurses died in the tragic accident. We lost five hardworking nurses but their memory and their reputation as good Filipino nurses sent a strong message to the whole nation. These nurses, wherever they may be, will always bring pride to the Filipino immigrant community.
Atty. Lourdes Tancinco may be reached at [email protected] or at 8877177 or 7211963 or visit her website at www.tancinco.com
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