California Highway Patrol officials say preliminary evidence shows the cliff crash that killed a lesbian couple from Washington state and their six adopted children may have been intentional.
Capt. Greg Baarts with the CHP Northern Division says information pulled from the SUV’s software shows the vehicle was stopped at the highway pullout before it accelerated straight off the cliff.
‘While it has been documented that the car was traveling at 90 mph upon impact, it is not conclusive whatsoever,’ Baarts said.
‘We do have reason to believe, however, that the crash was intentional. This is all based on preliminary information.’
Baarts says the electronic information combined with the lack of skid marks led officials to believe it was intentional.
‘Pure acceleration all the way,’ was how one spokesperson for the CHP described it, according to KGW-TV.
A Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office spokesman says authorities believe at least one felony was committed but declined to specify.
Five members of the Hart family were found dead.
Jennifer (back, left) and Sarah Hart (back, right) and their six adopted children were in their SUV when it plunged 100 feet off a California cliff this week
Searchers are looking for three more children believed to have been in the vehicle when it went over a scenic coastal overlook and landed on rocks in the Pacific Ocean below.
The speedometer inside the family SUV was ‘pinned’ at 90 mph after it plunged 100 feet off a California cliff with their six adopted children inside, according to court documents.
Jennifer and Sarah Hart, both 39, were killed when their 2003 GMC Yukon XL crashed off the scenic Pacific Coast Highway in Northern California this week.
Authorities say all eight members of the Hart family, including the six children aged 12 to 19, are presumed dead.
Authorities say all eight members of the Hart family, including the six children aged 12 to 19, are presumed dead after their 2003 GMC Yukon XL was found crashed on rocks
The bodies of three of the children – Markis Hart, 19, Jeremiah Hart, 14, and Abigail Hart, 14 – were located at the bottom of the cliff.
Police believe the couple’s three other children – Hannah Hart, 16, Devonte Hart, 15 and Sierra Hart, 12 – were also in the car at the time but their bodies have not yet been found.
Mystery surrounds the horror crash given no one saw their SUV drive off a flat, dirt pullout overlooking the Pacific Ocean.
A search warrant was served at the family’s home on Thursday to look for items including a travel itinerary, journals and possible suicide notes.
According to an affidavit for the warrant, cited by Fox 12 Oregon, the speedometer was ‘pinned’ at 90 mph.
Investigators said there was no evidence the car hit the embankment as it ‘traversed towards the tidal zone below’, and there were no ‘acceleration marks, tire friction marks or braking furrow marks’.
‘Based upon the California Highway Patrol investigation, it is their belief “a felony has been committed,”‘ the court documents stated, according to Fox 12.
This is an aerial view of the cliff the family plunged over in their car on the Pacific Coast Highway in California. To reach the cliff edge, the women would have had to have driven off the Pacific Highway and traversed 75ft of rugged dirt road before going over the cliff edge
Marcus Mazza, an engineer and reconstruction expert with Pennsylvania-based Robson Forensic, said on Thursday that the SUV was required to have a ‘black box’ that records accident data.
The recorder would show the car’s speed and use of the brakes, according to Mazza.
It could help investigators determine the cause of the crash given there were no skid marks or signs the driver braked in the moments before they went over the cliff.
‘There are a lot of unknowns on this,’ Mendocino County Sheriff Tom Allman said on Thursday.
‘Several of the questions that have been asked today will never be answered.’
To reach the cliff edge at the lookout, the women would have had to have driven off the Pacific Highway and traversed 75ft of rugged dirt road.
‘I can tell you it was a very confusing scene because there were no skid marks, there were no brake marks, there was no indication of why this vehicle traversed approximately over 75ft of a dirt pull out and went into the pacific ocean,’ Sheriff Allman said.
‘We have no reason to believe, we have no evidence, that this was an intentional act. Certainly people are wondering what caused this.
‘If this was an intentional act, I truly believe we are going to come to that conclusion.’
Sarah (center) and Jennifer (far right) Hart are pictured with their six adopted children in 2016. Three of their children were found dead alongside them on Monday, while the three others are still missing
Sarah (left) and Jennifer (right), both 39, were killed alongside three of their teenage children when their car crashed off the scenic Pacific Coast Highway in California on Monday
The two mothers were found dead inside the SUV, while three of their children were discovered outside the vehicle. A team on Thursday searched the rugged coastline for the three other children.
The case has thrown a spotlight on at least one previous run-in with the law by the Harts, along with neighbors’ repeated concerns about the way the home-schooled youngsters were being treated.
Well before the wreck, Sarah Hart pleaded guilty in 2011 to a domestic assault charge in Douglas County, Minnesota, telling authorities ‘she let her anger get out of control’ while spanking her 6-year-old adoptive daughter, court records show.
Her plea deal led to the dismissal of a malicious punishment of a child charge.
Then, last week, Bruce and Dana DeKalb, next-door neighbors of the Harts in Woodland, Washington, called state child protective services because one of the children, Devonte, had been coming over to their house almost every day for a week asking for food.
Devonte, now 15, drew national attention after the black youngster was photographed in tears, hugging a white police officer during a 2014 protest in Portland, Oregon, over the deadly police shooting of a black man in Ferguson, Missouri.
One of the couple’s children 15-year-old Devonte, whose body has not yet been found, made headlines in 2014 when a photo of him tearfully hugging a police officer at a rally went viral
Dana DeKalb said Devonte told her his parents were ‘punishing them by withholding food.’
The boy asked her to leave food in a box by the fence for him so his parents wouldn’t find out.
Social service authorities opened an investigation and a state caseworker went to the house last Friday but didn’t find anyone home. The agency had no prior history with the family, a state official said.
Neighbors said they saw the couple and their six adopted children leave the home in a hurry shortly after not answering the door to the child services worker.
The family’s car was spotted at the bottom of the cliff three days later. It was discovered by a passing motorist Monday afternoon.
The DeKalbs also recounted that three months after the Harts moved into their house on 2 acres with a fenced pasture last May, one of the girls rang the DeKalbs’ doorbell at 1.30am.
‘(She) was at our door in a blanket saying we needed to protect her,’ Bruce DeKalb said. ‘She said that they were abusing her.’
The entire family came over to their house the next morning to apologize and explain it was a bad week.
The brood was known as the Hart Tribe, a multiracial family of two women and six adopted children who grew their own food, took spontaneous road trips to camp and hike, and traveled to festivals and other events, offering free hugs and promoting unity.
Family friend Max Ribner took issue with the notion the crash was something other than a tragic accident. The couple adopted the six children, many of whom came from ‘hard backgrounds,’ he said.
‘They transformed these kids’ lives.’
‘This is a tragic accident of a magnitude that cannot be measured,’ said Zippy Lomax, a photographer who knew the Harts.
‘They were really radiant, warm, adventurous, inspiring people. They were always on some grand adventure, and the kids were living this life that was kind of like this dream.’
California Highway Patrol officers and deputy sheriffs from Mendocino and Alameda counties gather after a search for three missing children