‘Horrific accident’ sees police officer’s wife die in back of his police car

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The mysterious death of Clara Paulino, who died after she became trapped in her husband’s police car on Friday, is being treated as an “horrific accident,” investigators said.

Her husband, Aristides Paulino had returned from his midnight shift for the Miami-Dade police department and apparently left his Ford Explorer SUV unlocked in the driveway of their house before going to bed.

At some point late Friday morning Mrs Paulino, 56, got into the car, presumably to find something, and climbed into the secure “cage” area at the back of the vehicle.

Somehow, the car's self-locking mechanism was triggered and she was trapped.

As temperatures soared to well over 33ºC, the interior of the car would have become dangerously hot. Examination of the interior of the SUV revealed Mrs Paulino’s fingerprints all over the car – suggesting a desperate bid to escape.

“Clearly, she was panicked and trying to get out,” a police source told the Miami Herald.

Mrs Paulino’s lifeless body was discovered at 5pm on Friday.

Police cars are routinely modified to make it difficult for suspects to get out of the back seat unaided.

Stephen Mitchell, the general services bureau director for Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office, manages the police department’s motor pool.

“That’s standard option with most law enforcement vehicles so that a detainee can’t get out of the back of the vehicle,” he said. “You have to lift the handle from the outside.”

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He added that it’s also standard for partitions to be fitted over back-seat windows. “To keep folks from kicking them out,”

From her position in the “cage” portion of the vehicle Mrs Paulino would have been unable to use the horn to summon help and she hadn’t taken her mobile phone with her when she got into the car.

Her husband of 38 years has been with the Miami police force for 25 years, most of them working the night shift.

The couple’s son, also named Aristides, told reporters that the family wasn’t ready to talk about the tragic incident.

“We haven’t even buried her yet, and it’s a lot of pain,” he said.

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