Hart Family Cliff Crash: 6 Children Feared Dead, Plunge May Have Been Intentional

April 02, 2018
By: Catherine Townsend

The Hart Family

Photo by: Mendocino County Sheriff's Office

Mendocino County Sheriff's Office

The two mothers whose car plunged off a 70-foot cliff in California have a dark history of alleged abuse, according to new reports.

Jennifer and Sarah Hart were reportedly being investigated for starving their six adopted children before the car crash, and Child Protective Services visited the family shortly before they left their home in Washington state for a trip.

The bodies of Jennifer and Sarah, along with their children Markis, 19; Jeremiah, 14; and Abigail, 14; were found at the site.

Police say that they believe the couple's three other children — Devonte, 15; Hannah, 16; and Sierra, 12 — were also in the vehicle, but they have not yet been located.

Devonte gained national attention in 2014 when he was photographed crying in the arms of a white police officer during a protest in Oregon over the police shooting of an unarmed black teenager in Ferguson, Missouri.

The California Highway Patrol said on Sunday that the crash in Mendocino County may have been intentional based on the absence of skid marks, data from air bag controllers, and other information. CHP spokesman Cal Robertson told reporters that the GMC Yukon's on-board computer indicated that the vehicle stopped — and then accelerated — before falling over the cliff.

He also confirmed reports that the speedometer was at 90 miles per hour at the time of the crash. However, he and Acting Assistant CHP Chief Greg Baarts emphasized that the full vehicle inspection is still in process.

Baarts told NBC News that authorities in California are still looking for the missing children and also conducting interviews and "attempting to establish a timeline and routes of travel in an effort to rule out any other possibilities."

According to neighbors and court records, the family had a history with the Washington Department of Social and Health Services. The agency opened an investigation after the children were "dentified as potential victims of alleged abuse or neglect," according to Oregon Live.

In 2011, Sarah Hart pleaded guilty to domestic assault after her six-year-old daughter Abigail went to school with bruises and told her teacher, "Mom hit me."

Neighbors Bruce and Dana DeKalb have claimed that Devonte would often ask them for food, and said that he was sometimes denied food as punishment. Additionally, one night in August 2017 at 1:30 a.m., the DeKalbs say that one of the Hart daughters rang their doorbell wrapped in a blanket, saying that her parents were abusing her and asking for protection.

The Clark County Sheriff's Office searched the Hart home for computers, credit cards, and bank statements or anything else that might help determine a probable cause. Baarts said a felony may have been committed. Investigators report that no suicide note was found at the home.

The investigation continues.

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