MENDOCINO COUNTY, Calif. (KATU) The crash off a California cliff that likely killed a Woodland, Wash. family may have been intentional, California Highway Patrol (CHP) said on Monday.
Authorities found Jen and Sarah Hart, along with three of their adopted children - Markis, Abigail and Jeremiah – deceased at the crash scene last week.
The couple’s three other kids, Devonte, Sierra and Hannah Hart, were missing after the crash. Investigators said they believe they were inside the SUV when it went over the cliffside, and the law enforcement search has shifted to a recovery effort.
In an effort to piece together what led up to the crash, California Highway Patrol filed to obtain a search warrant for the family’s Woodland home.
Clark County detectives seized an iPad and laptop as evidence while serving a search warrant. The deputy sheriff who requested the warrant was searching for travel itineraries, appointment books, phone messages, credit card receipts, billing statements, hotel or motel receipts, airplane tickets, journals, and suicide notes – to name a few things.
The family's home is located on Northwest 389th Street in Vancouver. Neighbors tell KATU News they saw the family leave on Friday, March 23 shortly after a Child Protective Services worker paid a visit to the home.
CHP detectives say the speedometer in the family’s GMC Yukon was “pinned” at 90 mph, which means that is the speed indicated when law enforcement found the vehicle.
“We can’t go on record saying they were going 90 miles per hour, that wouldn’t be true or accurate,” said Acting Assistant Chief for CHP’s Northern Division, Greg Baarts.
Based on the SUV's on board computer, it was stopped on a dirt pull-out area before the driver accelerated for roughly 70 feet, and left the road.
Officials said there's no way the driver could have accelerated to 90 in that amount of time. According to investigators, there are several factors that could have contributed to the speedometer’s reading, such as water, an electrical charge or unintentionally bumped during the recovery efforts. However, they said that information will be a factor in their investigation.
At this point, officials are not sure who was driving the SUV. They are waiting on full autopsy reports to determine who was in the driver's seat.
Baarts said there are still a lot of unanswered questions in the case.
The Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office said they have more deputies on-duty to supplement the search, and CHP has a fixed-wing plane searching from the air.
The search has shifted closer to the Sonoma County coastline based on currents in the Pacific, Baarts said.
They are also searching along the routes of travel to find clues about the missing children.