HERCULES — A hearse delivering a body to a funeral caught fire Friday afternoon when sparks from a front tire flattened in a collision sparked a blaze. The driver was later arrested on suspicion of driving drunk, the California Highway Patrol said.
The hearse belonged to Mandel Funeral Services in Vallejo and the driver was identified as 55-year-old Daniel A. Mandel, the owner, CHP Officer Marvin Williford said.
Mandel was driving to Rolling Hills Memorial Park in El Sobrante to deliver a body for a funeral service, a representative of Rolling Hills said.
The strange turn of events began with a collision between the hearse and a pickup truck near the Carquinez Bridge Toll Plaza. Williford had no details about the collision.
Witnesses told the CHP they saw the hearse driving erratically, Williford said.
The driver continued on at 65 mph even though the hearse had a blown front tire. The tire wore away and the metal wheel came in contact with the pavement, emitting a shower of sparks. At 2:20 p.m. the hearse finally pulled over on westbound Interstate 80 just east of Pinole Valley Road.
When firefighters arrived, the hearse was completely engulfed in flames, Contra Costa Fire District dispatchers said. It took until 2:53 p.m. to extinguish the blaze. The vehicle was destroyed although the casket and its contents were saved.
Mandel Funeral Services, a family-owned Jewish funeral business, describes itself as "a mobile funeral home that brings full service funerals to families throughout Northern California." The company's Web page says it specializes in "funerals adhering to Jewish custom and law."
The blaze caused traffic backups on the freeway after firefighters blocked three lanes to fight it. Another hearse was dispatched to transport the casket the rest of the way to the funeral. There were no reports of injuries. Mandel was booked at the Solano County Jail.
Roman Gokhman covers public safety. Reach him at 925-945-4780.