Authorities found the bodies of a Washington family, Jennifer and Sarah Hart and three of their six kids (Markis, 19, Jeremiah, 14 and Abigail, 14), on March 26. Their SUV went off a 100-foot cliff on the Mendocino coast of California. Yesterday, police released a statement saying they have “reason to believe” the crash was “intentional.” This information comes after police reviewed preliminary data from the vehicle and its black box.
The California Highway Patrol (CHP) said the family’s on-board computer indicated the vehicle had stopped at a pullout roughly 70 feet from the road, approximately five feet from the shoulder’s edge, before plummeting over the cliff. The CHP confirmed the Hart family’s SUV speedometer was pinned at 90 mph, but said that finding is inconclusive.
The CHP said in their Monday statement:
A statement regarding the speedometer reading of 90 mph prior to the collision does not mean the vehicle was traveling at 90 mph. The speedometer reading could have been affected by the impact, affected by an electrical charge, or could have been unintentionally manipulated during recovery efforts.
While no suicide note had been found, authorities believe that an SUV crash killing a family in California may have been intentional. https://t.co/UsZYJDJqIv
— NBC News (@NBCNews) April 2, 2018
As Mendocino County Sheriff Tom Allman described it:
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 75 feet of a dirt pullout and went into the Pacific Ocean.
MORE UPDATES: Authorities say data taken from the Hart family SUV shows the vehicle came to a complete stop at pullout, then accelerated off the edge of the cliff. Because there were no skid marks, police believe the plunge was intentional. https://t.co/k5cdJoWwKL
— Shane D. Kavanaugh (@shanedkavanaugh) April 2, 2018
The bodies of the parents were inside the car, while the bodies of their three children were outside the vehicle. The children appeared not to have been wearing their seat belts at the time of the crash. The couple’s three other children (Sierra, 12, Devonte, 15, and Hannah, 15) have not yet been found but police believe they were in the vehicle at the time of the crash.
JUST IN: Washington State Dept. of Social Services says it opened Child Protective Services investigation into Hart family on March 23. Children, 3 of which are confirmed dead in a California crash, were identified as potential victims of abuse or neglect. https://t.co/6eDBvVbHFB pic.twitter.com/ve41p3X76V
— KATU News (@KATUNews) March 29, 2018
— The Oregonian (@Oregonian) March 31, 2018
The public interest in this case has gone well beyond the tragedy of a family whose lives were lost in a devastating crash and the questions that remain about the Harts’ care of their six adopted children. It has brought up memories of Devonte Hart, who is still missing. Devonte was the subject of a photograph that went viral in 2014, an image of a young black boy hugging a Portland police officer during protests of the police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. The photo was both moving and controversial, and many cannot believe this is what became of Devonte and his family.
I can’t. I just can’t.
— Jane Jarvis (@renegademom) April 2, 2018
Those poor kids thought they got a second chance in life from these 2 and then this happens. RIP
— Craw (@cwforsheeze) April 2, 2018
Such a sad story.
May those innocent children rest in peace
— Victor Collazo (@JR23910) April 2, 2018
How terribly sad and horrible.
— Anna (@_eisenzopf) April 2, 2018
This is so unbelievably tragic
— Joanna (@JoannaConn3lly) April 2, 2018
I'm heartbroken that this young man and his siblings are gone. RIP dear children.
— Terianne Freeman (@TerianneFreeman) April 2, 2018
While many questions remain unanswered and three children are still missing, one thing has become clear: there were warning signs that something was not right in the Hart home, and there may have been missed opportunities to intervene on behalf of the children.