Investigators say BMW anti-theft feature may be to blame for Madera teen's death

September 13, 2013 4:47:41 PM PDT
Investigators in Madera say a car's design feature may have played a role in the death of a 14-year-old high school student. Graciela Martinez died Wednesday when officers say she couldn't get out of a 1997 BMW and died of heat stroke. Authorities say the car's doors did not malfunction and an anti-theft feature may be to blame.

Friday Madera South High School held a moment of silence in honor of 14-year-old Graciela Martinez. And students remembered her in several ways, including holding a food fair where campus clubs raised $1,400 for her family to put towards funeral expenses.

It was a somber day at Madera South High School Friday as students wrote messages on heart-shaped cards in memory of 14-year-old Graciela Martinez.

"She was very young. She died at a young age. And I wanted to let her family know that I miss her and love her and to be strong about it," Graciela's classmate Yesenia said.

The notes are part of a school-wide effort to create a book for Graciela's family.

"We really have a group of compassionate students who are very supporting," Madera South High Principal Sandon Schwartz said.

Graciela, a freshman student was found dead inside her brother's car at Madera South High School Wednesday afternoon.

"There was obvious dehydration, there was obvious heat exhaustion. We just can't point it exactly to hyperthermia," Madera Police Detective, Dan Foss said.

Police say Oscar Martinez drove his sister to school Wednesday morning in time for his class at 6:40 a.m. and she had intended to wait in the car until her class began an hour later. Only she didn't make it out, her two older siblings found her dead in the backseat at the end of the day.

"We have the vehicle and are beginning to test the temperature and it's getting to be 140," Schwartz said.

Police now believe it was a design feature not a vehicle malfunction inside the 1997 300 series BMW that caused her to become trapped.

"It has a couple names either a double lock or arrested status feature and what it does is when you use a key to lock a door it disables virtually everything on the vehicle in terms of getting in or out of the vehicle. The door handles don't work the manual door locks don't work." Dan Foss said.

Students and staff were shocked by the discovery and told us their hearts go out to Martinez family.

"She was an excellent student did well academically," Schwartz said.

Two events were postponed as a result of Martinez death, including one designed to help freshman be successful in school, and a back-to-school dance scheduled for Friday evening. Friday night's football game went on as planned. And Madera South's rival Liberty High School designed posters to present at the game in Graciela's memory.