Devonte Hart family’s fatal SUV plunge over cliff was likely ‘intentional’: Police

The fatal crash that killed at least five members of the same family in Northern California earlier this week appears to have been intentional, an investigating officer confirmed on Sunday.

California Highway Patrol Acting Assistant Chief Greg Baart told KGW 8 News that investigators “do have reason to believe … that the crash was intentional,” while cautioning that
“this is all based on preliminary information.”

Baart also confirmed earlier reports that the speedometer was “pinned” at 90 MPH when authorities located that car; but again he cautioned that the finding was not conclusive.

“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,” Baart said.

As CrimeOnline previously reported, investigators searched the Hart family home on Thursday looking for banking and phone records, travel itineraries, and any suicide notes.

Baart told KGW 8 that the California Highway Patrol cannot confirm if a suicide note was found at the Woodland, Washington, home where married couple Sarah and Jennifer Hart, who are white, lived with their six adopted children, who are black. One of those children, Devonte Hart, became an internet sensation in 2014 after a photo of the then-12-year-old in a tearful embrace with a Portland police officer went viral. Devonte was attending a demonstration supporting the Ferguson, Missouri, protests in response to the fatal police-involved shooting of an unarmed 18-year-old, Michael Brown. Devonte was reportedly holding a “Free Hugs” sign when he struck up a conversation with the officer.

A Portland police officer embraces Devonte Hart at a police brutality demonstration in 2014. Credit: Associated Press

CrimeOnline uncovered a video of Devonte at a music festival the year before the iconic photograph was taken. In the video, he is beckoned to the stage by a performer, presumably because he was wearing the “Free Hugs” sign, as he often did. In the video, Devonte sobs through the embrace.

In the days leading up to the fatal crash, Devonte reportedly went to a neighbor’s home multiple times begging for food for himself and his siblings. The neighbors eventually called Child Protective Services, and said in an interview with The Oregonian that they believed the family left town after a CPS worker came knocking on their door last Friday.

The car went over a cliff from the Pacific Coast Highway on Monday night. While Devonte and his sisters Hannah and Sierra remain missing, authorities have said they believe that all six adopted children were in the car when it went into the ocean.



[Feature image: The Hart Family/Associated Press]