California crash that killed Hart family may have been intentional, authorities say

SUV that plunged off cliff killing family may have been intentional act

Police now believe the family who plummeted to their deaths in California last week deliberately drove off a cliff, according to new reports.

Data from the vehicle's air bag module and software indicated that the auto had stopped at the pull out and then accelerated off the road, said Greg Baarts, acting assistant chief of the California Highway Patrol's Northern Division. "We do have reason to believe. the crash was intentional".

Parents Sarah and Jennifer Hart and three of their adopted children - 19-year-old Markis, 14-year-old Jeremiah and 14-year-old Abigail - were confirmed dead on Wednesday by authorities in Mendocino County after a passerby spotted their vehicle at the bottom of the cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

CHP told KATU that the search for the missing children has become a "recovery effort".

"This specific location is very hard to search because the ocean currents and tides are strong, it's unpredictable, and the murkiness of the water makes it hard to see", said Capt. Greg Van Patten, a spokesman for the Mendocino County Sheriff's Office.

The hart's were being investigated by social services in Washington after a neighbor complained there children were being deprived of food.

KPTV reports that investigators found no "acceleration marks, tire friction marks or braking furrow marks" at the scene and that the vehicle's speedometer was "pinned" at 90 miles per hour.

The large, multiracial brood, led by Sarah and Jennifer Hart, both 38, grew their own food, went on road trips and took part in activist causes.

An image of Devonte Hart garnered national attention in 2014 when a photographer snapped a photo of him hugging a police officer with tears streaming down his face during a protest in Portland, Oregon, over the police killing of Michael Brown.

His adoptive sisters - 16-year-old Hannah Hart and 12-year-old Sierra Hart - were also missing after the family's vehicle plummeted off a cliff near Mendocino on March 26.

Dana KeKalb, a neighbor of the family in Woodland, Wash., said she called state Child Protective Services two weeks ago after Devonte said his parents were "punishing" the kids by withholding food. In the photograph, Devonte is crying in the officer's arms, and had been carrying a sign offering "Free Hugs".

"Their daughter is begging us please, please, please don't make her go back and that they are abusing her", said Dekalb.

He denied rumors that a suicide note had been found at the Harts' Washington house but said investigators were still evaluating some items found at the residence and said there had been some red flags raised. As of now, they do not know why the family was in California.

Authorities in Washington state searched the family's home Thursday. The Department of Social and Health Services had no prior history with the family, said Norah West, an agency spokeswoman. CPS confirmed that they had opened an investigation, which identified the six adopted siblings as "potential victims of alleged abuse and neglect".

"As much love as they put in the world, there were times when it was challenging for them to be a family with six kids and hold the energy of what they put out", Ribner said.

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