MIAMI — The woman who got trapped in the back of her husband’s Miami Police SUV died of heat stroke, the county medical examiner’s office investigation has ruled.
Clara Paulino’s death was also deemed an accident.
The 56-year-old woman died on the afternoon of Aug. 21 after she climbed into the back of Aristides Paulino’s Ford Explorer SUV apparently in search of something, then could not escape when the doors somehow closed and a self-locking mechanism kicked in. Aristides Paulino, 58, a longtime Miami police officer, was inside their Miami Shores home sleeping after finishing a midnight shift, investigators said.
The bizarre death, first reported by the Miami Herald, garnered international headlines as the Miami-Dade medical examiner office’s worked to investigate her death.
Investigators believed Clara Paulino spent several hours stuck inside the back of the SUV, as the temperature outside soared well over 90 degrees. Exactly what she had been looking for in his police vehicle was unknown. Her son and husband found her body in the early evening.
Paulino suffered from some underlying health conditions, including diabetes and thyroid disease, according to the medical examiner’s report, although heat stroke was the only listed cause of death.
She was also found with some bruising on her hands, which suggests she may have been beating on the windows in a failed effort to get out of the SUV. Sources earlier told the Herald that numerous fingerprints were also found on the inside of the window.
Hot-car deaths are not unusual, but almost always involve young children left inside a vehicle by a caretaker. It is, however, extremely rare for anyone to die after being in the back of a sweltering law enforcement patrol car.
Because the back seat is generally where suspects are kept, police cars generally have mechanisms that prevent someone from opening doors and windows from the inside. In Aristides Paulino’s police SUV, a partition between the back seat and the front seat prevented his wife from getting to the horn, and she did not have her cellphone with her to call for help.
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