Family Sues After Teen Dies Trapped in Locked Car

Girl, 14, couldn't escape after doors locked from outside

By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff

Posted May 9, 2014 1:53 AM CDT

(Newser) – A California family is suing BMW after their vehicle became a death trap for their 14-year-old daughter. Graciela Martinez's older brother drove her to school in the family's 1997 BMW 328i early one morning last fall and left her inside to get extra sleep before classes began. He locked the doors from the outside so she wouldn't be disturbed, only to find her still in the car, pale and without a pulse, after classes finished, NBC reports. She was pronounced dead a short time later and an autopsy found the cause of death to be "heat stroke and environmental hyperthermia due to vehicle entrapment." She had been trapped inside by the car's "double-locking mechanism," which ensures the doors can't be opened from the inside after they have been locked from the outside, according to the lawsuit, which accuses BMW of negligence.

The teenager didn't have a phone with her and without the ignition key, she was unable to use the car's horn. The family's lawyer says there are signs she tried to escape, but wasn't strong enough to break a window, reports the Fresno Bee. The family is also suing the school district, accusing it of violating school policy by failing to notify the girl's parents when she didn't show up for classes. A BMW spokesman says that while he can't comment on the lawsuit, the locking mechanism in the 1997 model was designed to prevent theft. "We didn’t envision the situation where someone would lock somebody in the car from the exterior," he says, adding that the design was changed in 1999. (In another heartbreaking lawsuit, a driver is suing the boy she killed for emotional distress.)

The family is seeking unspecified damages from BMW.   (AP Photo/Kerstin Joensson, file)
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