Their family died in a crash on the Mendocino County coast, but 3 children are still missing
Authorities are searching for three children whose parents and siblings died when their car plunged off a cliff and into the ocean along the Mendocino Coast.
Investigators believe the whole family of eight — Jennifer and Sarah Hart and their six children — was visiting the area from Woodland, Wash. The bodies of the two adults and three of the children were recovered from the wreckage.
“An entire family vanished, and perished during this tragedy,” said Mendocino County Sheriff Tom Allman. “We have every indication to believe that all six children were in there.”
One of the missing children is Devonte Hart, who drew widespread media attention in 2014 after he was photographed hugging a Portland, Ore., police sergeant at a protest related to unrest in Ferguson, Mo., according to the Sheriff’s Office.
Portland police told the Sheriff’s Office this week that the family may have moved from their former home in West Linn, Ore., due to the intense media coverage.
When investigators searched the Harts’ home in Woodland, they found family belongings, pets and some chickens, but the three missing children were not there.
The deadly crash was reported Monday afternoon off Highway 1, at Juan Creek in the small town of Westport. A passerby called authorities after noticing the wreckage from a pullout along the road.
About 100 feet down, a car was overturned along the ocean’s rocky shoreline. The parents’ bodies were found inside the car, while the bodies of three children were outside the vehicle. The car’s engine was cold, and the water that had seeped into the car was warmer than the ocean, indicating that the vehicle had been there for several hours, Allman said.
“It was a very confusing scene because there was no skid marks, there were no brake marks,” he said. “There was no indication of why this vehicle traversed approximately over 75 feet of a dirt pullout and went into the Pacific Ocean.”
Even so, he said, “We have no evidence and no reason to believe that this was an intentional act.”
Recovery efforts on the first day lasted until after midnight. The children pulled from the wreckage were identified as Markis Hart, 19; Jeremiah Hart, 14; and Abigail Hart, 14.
Search crews still are looking in the ocean waters near the crash site for Devonte, 15; Hannah Hart, 16; and Sierra Hart, 12. The U.S. Coast Guard searched by rescue boat, the California Highway Patrol used a fixed-wing airplane and helicopter, and the Sheriff’s Office scoured the beach along the highway.
Investigators also are trying to piece together the 24 hours before the crash, and have asked that any witnesses who saw the family at a hotel, restaurants or gas stations come forward.
Anyone with information can call authorities at (707) 463-4086.
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