Driver's decisions leading up to fiery crash questioned

It may be a week before investigators determine the exact cause of the fiery taxi crash that killed two tourists from Cincinnati, the California Highway Patrol said Tuesday.

Investigators are looking at how much time elapsed between when the driver, Fageh Hassan Behbahani, 49, of Daly City, may have first smelled smoke, somewhere around Candlestick Park, and when he exited Interstate 280 at Mariposa Street around 11 a.m. Monday.

Behbahani told investigators that is when the brakes of the DeSoto Cab Co.’s Dodge Intrepid stopped working. It caught fire and slammed into a freeway pillar at 40 mph, CHP Officer Shawn Chase said.

“If I were in that situation, the prudent thing is to pull over and check it out right away. Try to get off the freeway,” Chase said. “But it’s still an open investigation.”

Behbahani has not been arrested, Chase said.

The cab driver may have bypassed several off-ramps in a 2-mile stretch before exiting I-280.

The married couple, Dennis, 61, and Karen Marshall, 59, had just arrived for a vacation in San Francisco and were en route from San Francisco International Airport to the Mark Hopkins hotel in Nob Hill.

Both died at San Francisco General Hospital.

Three sheriff’s deputies trailing in a county-owned car and van watched the crash and stopped to extinguish the flames and rescue the couple. The deputies — Zalady Ralleta, Robert Rood and Christopher Sheriff — all were treated for minor burns and smoke inhalation. Rood and Ralleta remained at St. Francis Memorial Hospital on Tuesday.

Behbahani, who has worked with DeSoto for six months, has a valid license and a clean record. Police said he checked himself out of San Francisco General Hospital on Monday despite medical advice to stay.

City code requires that cabs are inspected at least once a year with valid registration, brake certification and proof of insurance if they’re regular vehicles, and once every six months if they’re spares.

The Dodge passed its required inspection Jan. 10, with 286,000 miles on its engine.

Wire services contributed to this report.


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