Photo: Tristan Fortsch / KATU News 2016
A body that washed ashore Saturday may belong to one of three children who have been missing and presumed dead since their mother drove a sport utility vehicle off a cliff along the Mendocino County coastline, officials said.
Investigators believe Jennifer Hart may have intentionally punched the gas, sending the car with her wife and their six adopted children speeding down the 100-foot bluff toward the Pacific Ocean last month.
A DNA analysis will be conducted to identify the body, said Lt. Shannon Barney of the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office. The process can take several weeks.
Jennifer and Sarah Hart, both 38, were found dead in the front of the upside-down 2003 GMC Yukon. The bodies of three of their children, Markis, 19, and Jeremiah and Abigail, both 14, were found outside the vehicle.
The couple’s three other children, Devonte, 15, Hannah, 16, and Sierra, 12, have been missing since the SUV plunged over the cliff off Highway 1 near Westport.
Search and rescue teams have been looking for the three children daily since the wreckage was discovered March 26, pausing only during the recent storm.
On Saturday afternoon, a couple vacationing on the coast called the California Highway Patrol to report seeing a body in the surf near Juan Creek, in the vicinity of the crash site. Another bystander pulled the body onto the beach.
Officials described the body as that of a female African American, whose age is unknown. An autopsy is scheduled for Tuesday, and the cause of death has yet to be determined, Barney said.
The Sheriff’s Office is monitoring ocean conditions to see when further searches, including those with dive teams, can be safely conducted, he said.
“It is not uncommon after a significant storm, such as the one passing through the north state currently, to bring items to the surface or wash onto the beach,” Barney said in a statement. “There were no other signs of the other missing Hart children.”
The tragedy has drawn national attention, in part because Devonte was the boy in a viral 2014 photo that captured him with tears streaming down his face as he embraced a Portland, Ore., police officer.
Investigators are looking at whether an investigation initiated by Child Protective Services days before the family went missing from its rural home in Woodland, Wash., had anything to do with the road trip south and fatal crash.
Since the crash, neighbors have said that Devonte told them his parents weren’t feeding him and his siblings.
The Washington State Department of Social and Health Services had attempted to contact the family March 23 to follow up on a report of abuse or neglect. Department officials said they had no previous contact with the family.
Sarah Hart pleaded guilty in 2011 to a domestic assault charge in Minnesota for abusing her 6-year-old adoptive daughter, according to court records.
The CHP said the SUV’s speedometer was found stuck at 90 mph, indicating the car’s speed upon impact. Officials said the vehicle’s computer shows the car continued to accelerate beginning 70 feet from the cliff’s edge until it crashed onto the rocks below.
Source link : https://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/Body-found-may-belong-to-missing-girl-Hart-family-12815249.php
Publish date : 2018-04-08 01:34:37