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Miami, FL — In all of our years reporting on tragic incidents here at the Free Thought Project, we have never reported on anything like this. Though police officers have locked infants and dogs in the back of their patrol cars until they died, we've never seen an adult die from heat in the back of a patrol car, until now. The wife of a veteran police officer died this week after getting locked in the back of her husband's patrol car.

The case, which now is being handled by Miami-Dade’s homicide bureau, began on Monday after Clara Paulino, wife of Miami police officer, Aristides Paulino, 58, was found dead in the back of her husband's police SUV.

“It’s very preliminary,” said Miami-Dade Police Lt. Carlos Rosario, a spokesman. “There’s still a lot of work to be done. But right now, it’s an unclassified death.”

Immediately police began treating Clara's death as a freak accident. However, they have no idea why she was in the back of the car nor do they know how the door closed behind her. Unless a car is parked on a hill, the door will usually remain open unless it is pulled closed from the inside or pushed closed from the outside.

According to a report in the Miami Herald:

Detectives suspect that Paulino — as her husband slept inside the home after finishing a midnight shift — climbed into the backseat of his marked Ford Explorer SUV in search of something, then could not escape when the doors somehow closed and a self-locking mechanism kicked in.

As the temperature outside soared well over 90 degrees on Friday, Paulino spent several hours stuck inside the SUV until her family discovered her body after 5 p.m., according to one law-enforcement source. Miami-Dade detectives found her fingerprints all over the inside of the SUV.

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

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According to the report, the Miami-Dade Medical Examiner’s Office has not yet ruled on a manner or cause of death. A source reportedly told the Herald that Clara had a history of medical problems that may have contributed to her death in the back of the cruiser. However, one does not need to have medical problems to die from being locked in a hot car in the middle of August in South Florida.

Within the first hour alone, a vehicle parked in the sun will reach an average cabin temperature of 116 degrees. In a locked vehicle, a dark dashboard, steering wheel or seat can often reach temperature ranges of 180 - 200 degrees F, which then warms the air trapped inside a vehicle. It quickly becomes a sauna.

According to the Herald, sources told them it appeared officer Paulino had finished his overnight shift and returned home in the late morning, going straight to sleep. He apparently left the SUV unlocked in the driveway of the family home, sources said.

Clara allegedly climbed into the vehicle around 1:00 p.m. and was not found until 5:30 p.m. The doors do not open from the inside and a partition prevented Clara from honking the horn. She was trapped for several hours as the temperature in the car continued to climb in the hottest part of the day.

“That’s standard option with most law enforcement vehicles so that a detainee can’t get out of the back of the vehicle,” said Stephen Mitchell, the general services bureau director for the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office, who handles the department’s fleet of police cars. “You have to lift the handle from the outside.”

“It’s literally a cage,” said one Miami police officer familiar with the vehicle.

As stated above, hot car deaths are not unusual but most often involve children who are left inside by their caretakers. In fact, last year, a former cop from Mississippi pleaded guilty to this very same horrifying blunder of leaving her three-year-old daughter strapped in her hot patrol car until she died—as this cop had sex with her supervisor inside his home.

Former Long Beach police officer Cassie Barker was sentenced 20 years behind bars for the death of her three-year-old daughter.