LOS ANGELES (CBSMiami) – Investigators say the crash off a California cliff that killed a Washington state family may have been intentional.
The California Highway Patrol said the SUV carrying Jennifer Hart, Sarah Hart and at least three of their adopted children drove straight off the cliff without stopping. The couple’s three other children are missing and presumed dead.
The CHIP said electronic data pulled from SUV has helped them piece together the family’s final tragic moments. Preliminary information shows the SUV pulled off Highway One and stopped on a dirt-turn around about 70-feet from the cliff’s edge. Police said the vehicle then accelerated, plunging straight into the Pacific Ocean. There were no skid marks found on the scene, or signs the driver tried to brake.
Authorities describe the SUV’s speedometer as “pinned at 90 miles per hour,” but investigators say that number could have been caused by the impact of the crash.
Late last week, investigators searched Sarah and Jennifer Hart’s home in Woodland, Washington, where they had recently moved with their six adopted children. Authorities said no suicide note was found.
“They portrayed this happy little family,” said neighbor Dana Dekalb.
Dekalb said there were signs of trouble, prompting her to call child protective services.
“Their daughter is begging us please, please, please don’t make her go back and that they are abusing her,” said Dekalb.
In 2011, when the family lived in Minnesota, Sarah Hart pleaded guilty to domestic assault. According to court documents, she admitted she bent her 6-year-old daughter over a bathtub and hit her on the backside.
“There was no question as to how completely loved and adored those children were,” said family friend Zippy Lomax.
Lomax met the family in 2012 and said she is shocked by allegations of abuse.
“None of that lines up with the people we all knew. It’s really hard to imagine,” she said.
Child protective services visited the family home at least three times in the days before the crash but never saw the Harts. Investigators said they have written search warrants for the couple’s cell phones and bank records. As of now, they do not know why the family was in California.