The agencies investigating the fatal SUV plunge that killed at least five family members have corrected a key detail of the investigation’s findings — saying now that Jennifer and Sarah Hart were not wearing their seatbelts when their vehicle went over a cliff from the Pacific Coast Highway into the Pacific Ocean late last month.
The Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office corrected an earlier statement, made by a member of the department, that Jennifer and Sarah Hart were wearing their seatbelts when they were found dead in their SUV on March 26. Three of their adopted children were also found dead near the vehicle, and three more adopted children remain missing.
“Information released on 04-04-2018 by the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office incorrectly stated that Jennifer Hart and Sarah Hart were wearing a seat-belt during the incident,” Thursday’s release reads.
“Investigators from the California Highway Patrol MAIT team (Multidisciplinary Accident Investigation Team) determined Jennifer Hart and Sarah Hart were not wearing seat-belts during the incident. This determination was made during the MAIT team’s inspection of the vehicle.”
On Wednesday, Mendocino County Sherrif Tom Allman said in a television appearance that he was “no longer … calling this an accident; I’m calling it a crime.”
There is no indication that the corrected report has any implications for the sheriff’s determination.
Devonte Hart, 15; Sierra Hart, 12; and Hannah Hart; 16, are all still missing. Their siblings Markis Hart, 19; Jeremiah Hart, 14; and Abigail Hart, 14, are confirmed dead in the apparent murder-suicide.
CrimeOnline spoke with Officer Calvin Robertson of the California Highway Patrol Northern Division, who confirmed that Jennifer and Sarah Hart were inside the vehicle and were not wearing their seatbelts. Officer Robertson also confirmed that the land search for Devonte, Sierra, and Hannah will continue while the water search is postponed due to weather.
Asked why investigators had indicated it was likely that all six of Sarah and Jennifer Hart’s adopted children were in the vehicle, Officer Robertson said that initial determinations were based primarily on the investigating agencies’ knowledge of the Hart family’s typical behavior patterns, as they often traveled together.
“We don’t know if [the missing children] were in the vehicles,” Officer Robertson said.
“We don’t have any conclusive information at this time that they were or were not … so we want to do our part in this and find these children.”
Asked if the land search perimeters had changed or expanded, Officer Robertson referred to the most recent statements from the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office, indicating that investigators were searching along the route the family had traveled after they left their Woodland, Washington, home on either March 23 or March 24.
On March 23, a Child Protective Services worker visited the Hart’s home in response to a call from a neighbor who said that Devonte Hart had been to their home on several occasions asking for food.
[Feature image: Hart Family/Associated Press]