April 2 (UPI) — A vehicle in which a married couple of six children died may have intentionally been driven off a cliff in Northern California, police said.
The family SUV fell 100 feet off Pacific Coast Highway 1 last week and struck the beach below. Investigators say the speedometer was pegged at 90 mph and, combined with the fact no skid marks were seen on the road, that indicates the crash may have been intentional.
The March 26 crash near Westport, Calif., killed Jennifer Hart and Sarah Hart, a married couple who adopted six children. Three, ranging from ages 14 to 19, were found dead at the scene. Three others, 12 to 16, are missing but officials assume they were also killed in the crash.
“Preliminary investigation indicates to us that this incident might have been an intentional act and not the result of a traffic collision,” Greg Baarts, acting assistant chief of the California Highway Patrol, said Sunday. “Whenever a vehicle slams into something it’s fairly common the speedometer will lock at a certain speed. But you cannot use that information [except] for a base, just for the speed of the vehicle. There are several other factors that need to be considered.”
Software removed from the vehicle indicates the SUV was stopped at a scenic bluff on Highway 1 before it accelerated about 70 feet and plunged off the cliff.
While police said earlier that they had no reason to believe the incident was planned, investigators obtained a warrant to search the family’s home, KPTV-TV reported.
The family’s neighbors in Woodland, Wash., said they contacted a government protective services agency after one of the children, 15-year-old Devonte Hart, once came to their home begging for food for himself and his siblings. The Washington State Department of Social and Health Services said in a statement last week that a case had been opened, as “the now-deceased children were identified as potential victims of alleged abuse or neglect.”
Sara Hart was charged with domestic assault malicious punishment of a child in 2010 after one of the children, then 6, came to school with bruises on her stomach and back. A Minnesota court convicted her of domestic assault.