Veteran Florida cop's wife dies after getting trapped in rear seat of his police SUV in stifling heat for hours
Florida authorities revealed how the wife of a police officer died after becoming trapped in his work SUV for hours in stifling heat. 56-year-old Clara Paulino died inside her husband's police Ford Explorer on Friday outside their Miami Shores residence. Aristides Paulino, the husband, has been in the force for over 25 years, the Miami Herald reported.
Aristides was asleep at the home after his midnight shift when, at around 1 pm, his wife climbed into the back seat of the vehicle looking for something. Due to the door's special latching mechanism, which prevents it from being opened from the inside, Clara became trapped inside. Police reported how her fingerprints were found all over the interior of the Ford Explorer, indicating how she desperately tried to get out but in vain. The safety partition of the police vehicle prevented her from reaching over and honking the horn for help. Furthermore, she didn't have her cellphone on her person.
"It’s literally a cage," one Miami cop said of the custom rear seat.
Like most others, Miami police cars have a cage that separates the back seat from the front seat and metal bars on the windows. It can only be opened from the outside, per NBC Miami. According to the report, Clara's body was found by Aristides, 58, and the couple’s son at around 5.30 pm -- at least four and a half hours after becoming trapped in the vehicle.
Aristides said he left the SUV unlocked in their driveway after returning from work Friday morning and went straight to bed. While it is unclear why Clara went inside the vehicle, investigators are treating her death as an accident. Nonetheless, the Miami-Dade Police Department’s Homicide Bureau is also investigating the incident. Meanwhile, the Miami-Dade Medical Examiner’s Office is yet to establish a cause of death.
Speaking to the Herald, a police source said the victim had a history of health maladies that may have contributed to her death while being trapped inside the police vehicle.
"It’s very preliminary," police spokesman Lt. Carlos Rosario said. "There’s still a lot of work to be done. But right now, it’s an unclassified death."
Aristides and Clara had been married for 28 years. Their son Artisides Jr. said it was too early for the family to comment. "We haven’t even buried her yet and it’s a lot [of] pain," he told the Herald.
"Horrible, horrible, horrible, imagine someone, that happening to someone," one neighbor told NBC. "She loved her family and her children and I believe it's just an unfortunate situation."
Hot-car deaths are not unusual, but it's rare for someone to die by becoming trapped in a law enforcement vehicle. Police cars have long featured mechanisms to prevent someone in the back seat from opening doors and windows from inside, considering it is usually where suspects are held.
"That’s a standard option with most law enforcement vehicles so that a detainee can’t get out of the back of the vehicle,” Stephen Mitchell, the general services bureau director for the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office, explained to the Herald. “You have to lift the handle from the outside.”