Witness says he heard cries for help near site of Hart family crash: Coroner’s Inquest

A California Highway Patrol officer testified at the second day of a coroner’s inquest into the fatal crash that killed members of the Hart family that a witness may have heard a cry for help moments after the family car drove over a cliff in Northern California.

Jennifer Hart was behind the wheel of her family’s SUV when it drove over a cliff near Westport, California, sometime on the night of March 25 or the early morning of March 26, 2018.

Jennifer’s wife Sarah Hart and three of their adopted children — Markis, Jeremiah, and Abigail — were found dead at the crash site, and a fourth child, Ciera, was found in the water weeks later. Just this fall, authorities identified partial remains of a foot that washed up in May as belonging to Hannah Hart. Devonte Hart has never been found, but authorities declared him dead earlier this month, for reasons that remain unclear.

CHP investigator Jake Slates has been on the stand at the public hearing in Willits Justice Center in Mendocino County much of Thursday afternoon, and testified about an interview he had with a man who on March 25 witnessed the Hart’s SUV near his camper, which appears to have been in very close proximity to the turnout where Jennifer Hart is believed have driven the car over a cliff.

Late on the night of March 25, Slates testified, the witness in the camper recalled being woken by the sound of accelerating tires, which was followed by the sound of a car “bottoming out.”

At some point later — it is unclear exactly how much time elapsed — the man got out of his car to take a look around and see where the sound came from. At that point, the SUV had apparently gone all the way over, and the vehicle was not in the same place he had seen it earlier that day. The witness did not appear to have seen any evidence of the wreck that night, but heard a sound he later came to believe could have been connected.

“He said he felt like he heard someone hollering for help,” Slates testified, explaining that the witness at the time presumed it was the sound of wildlife, being unaware at the time that a car had gone over the cliff.

Rescuers were not made aware of the vehicle wreck until the next day, when they recovered the four bodies. The Westport Fire Department was reportedly the first agency on the scene.

At this time, there are no further indications that anyone else witnessed the car going over the cliff. The coroner’s inquest testimony is continuing on Thursday. Stay with CrimeOnline for continued updates.


[Feature image: Alameda County Sheriff’s Office via AP, File]