Last week, according the Associated Press, a SUV carrying a Washington State family plunged 100 feet off the side of a cliff in California, killing members of the eight person family, which consisted of two moms, Sarah and Jennifer Hart, and six adopted children.
While the crash was initially believed to be an accident, the AP reports that the information retrieved from the SUV’s software has authorities believing it wasn’t. According to the California Highway Patrol, the SUV “was stopped at a flat, dirt pull-off area before it sped off the steep rocky face and plunged 100 feet.”CNN
Captain Greg Baarts said during a press conference that “the electronic information combined with the lack of skid marks or signs the driver braked led authorities to believe the crash was purposeful.”
Five of the eight members were found still inside the car; authorities believe the other three children were swept out to sea.CNN
Captain Greg Van Patten, a spokesman for the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office, said:
“This specific location is very difficult to search because the ocean currents and tides are strong, it’s unpredictable, and the murkiness of the water makes it difficult to see.”
The SUV was discovered on March 26 by a passerby.
And according to Baarts, “there have been red flags” regarding the family’s wellbeing.
Three days before the SUV was discovered, a welfare investigation was opened to see if some of the children were being neglected.
According to the AP, the Harts’ neighbors reported them to Child Protective Services. As Bruce and Dana DeKalb told the AP, Sarah and Jennifer Hart’s 15-year-old son, Devonte, had been coming over to their house asking for food because their parents were allegedly withholding their meals as a form of punishment.
Devonte asked Bruce and Dana to leave a box of food by the fence for him and his siblings. The family reportedly was not home on March 23 when a CPS worker showed up to their house.
Sarah Hart had previously been convicted of domestic assault in Douglas County, Minnesota. A six-year-old child showed bruises on her stomach and back to her teacher, which resulted in Sarah being charged with malicious punishment of a child and domestic assault, according to ABC News. The malicious punishment of a child charges were eventually dropped.
Nonetheless, family friend Max Ribner “took issue” with the idea that the crash was anything more than an accident. He said of the couple:
“They transformed these kids’ lives.”
The AP reports that the family often took spontaneous road trips and traveled to different festivals and other events, where they offered hugs and promoted unity.
Many details surrounding the crash, including why the family was in California, remain unknown.