A California Highway Patrol (CHP) official confirmed on Sunday, April 1, that they had reasons to believe the crash that killed at least five people after their SUV plunged off a cliff last week was intentional.
Greg Baarts, Acting Assistant Chief for CHP, told reporters during a telephone press conference with media on Sunday night, that based on preliminary information, officials believe the “crash was intentional” and confirmed that the speedometer of Hart’s family SUV was “pinned or was traveling at 90 mph,” reported KGW8 News.
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
“It was documented at the time of the crash, the vehicle was ‘pinned’ or was traveling at ’90 mph.’ However, that information is not conclusive or factual. The speedometer could have moved at impact or somehow was manipulated.
“While it has been documented that the car was traveling at 90 mph upon impact, it is not conclusive whatsoever. We do have reason to believe, however, that the crash was intentional. This is all based on preliminary information,” Baarts said.
Authorities also said during the press conference that Hart’s family SUV’s onboard computer shows that the vehicle had stopped at the pullout but then accelerated over the cliff, a distance of about 70 feet, reported the news station.
The crash, which was believed to have occurred on March 26 along the Pacific Coast Highway, has puzzled officials because the area of the dangerous road wasn’t directly next to the cliff. However, many parts of the Pacific Coast Highway are considered dangerous, with few guardrails along the edge.
Jennifer and Sara Hart, as well as three of their adopted children — 19-year-old Markis Hart, 14-year-old Jeremiah Hart, and 14-year-old Abigail Hart — have been identified as the victims of the crash. Three other children — 12-year-old Sierra Hart, 16-year-old Hannah Hart, and 15-year-old Devonte Hart — are considered missing, according to the news station.
Mendocino County Sheriff Tom Allman said they believe all six children were inside the SUV at the time of the crash. Authorities believe the three other children may have been carried out to sea.
The family’s house in Woodland, Washington, had been visited by Child Protective Services after the agency opened an investigation into the family on March 23 for potential child neglect and abuse, reported KPTV. The family had no prior history with CPS prior to March 23. No findings had been made in the investigation, reported KGW8 News, citing CPS officials.
Neighbors of the family in Woodland said they had contacted CPS after one of the adopted children came to their home begging for food for him and his siblings.
The Clark County Sheriff’s Office executed a search warrant on Hart’s property to retrieve items like computers, credit cards and bank statements to help determine a probable cause. Baarts said on Sunday night that during the search they did not find any notes or any indication which would explain what happened. However, authorities believe a felony may have been committed, reported the news station.
“It is safe to report that a felony may have been committed in this case,” Baarts said.
The Hart family left their home on March 23, the same day employees with the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services tried to contact them.
Police are still investigating the circumstances surrounding the crash. No further details have been released.
NTD reporter Zack Stieber contributed to this report