The wife of a Miami police officer died on Friday afternoon when she got trapped in the backseat of his police SUV in sweltering temperatures. The Miami Herald reported that authorities are investigating her death, considered to be a “horrific accident.” Clara Paulino, 56, is believed to have climbed into the back of her husband’s police SUV, where she became trapped and could not get out.
Law enforcement officials told the Miami Herald that she was likely in the backseat for hours as temperatures rose over 90 degrees, and her body was discovered by her family after 5 p.m. Officials said Paulino had some medical problems that could have been a factor; however, the Miami-Dade Medical Examiner’s Office has not yet confirmed her cause of death.
A spokesperson with the Miami-Dade Police Department told Heavy in an emailed statement that the police department’s homicide bureau is investigating the incident. “The incident is being handled as an unclassified death investigation, and no further information is available at the time. The investigation remains active,” the statement reads.
Officials Believe Paulino Climbed Into the Backseat Looking for Something While Her Husband Slept After a Night Shift
Paulino’s husband, 58-year-old Aristides Paulino, has been on the force for 25 years and has been working the midnight shift for the better part of the past 20 years. He returned from work in the morning and went to sleep, leaving his car unlocked in the driveway, the Herald reported. While he slept, Paulino got into the backseat looking for something — officials aren’t sure what — at which point the door closed for some reason and she became trapped inside.
A law enforcement source told the outlet that she had left fingerprints throughout the inside of the SUV, a Ford Explorer. “Clearly, she was panicked and trying to get out,” the source said. There is a self-locking mechanism for the backseat doors and a partition between the front seat and the backseat which would have prevented her from climbing through to the front of the SUV or reaching the vehicle’s horn. She also did not have her cellphone on her, the authorities told the Herald.
A Miami police officer described the SUV’s backseat design as “a cage.” The vehicle is designed to prevent suspects from escaping, meaning windows can’t be kicked out or rolled down and door handles have to be lifted from the outside.
One of Paulino’s sons said, “We haven’t even buried her yet and it’s a lot of pain,” declining to discuss his mother’s tragic death with the Herald.
Hot Car Deaths Are Common in the Summer, But It’s Rare That They Involve Adults or Police Vehicles
Deaths in hot vehicles are tragically common when temperatures soar during the daytime, but it’s rare for them to involve adults or police vehicles. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), there were 52 kids who died of heatstroke after being left in a hot car in 2019 and 53 in 2018. This year, 19 children have died so far.
Although adults can also die in hot vehicles, it’s much rarer because they are usually able to get out of the vehicle themselves, unlike children. According to the Herald, one man was forgotten inside a corrections van for three hours at the Turner Guilford Knight Correctional Center in Miami. The van was off and there was no air conditioning on, but the man, Christopher Walls, survived when a passing officer noticed him inside.
In August 2019, a police K9 dog with the Long Beach Police Department died when he was accidentally left inside a police vehicle in hot temperatures, ABC13 reported at the time.