SUV plunge off Northern California cliff may have been intentional, police say

An SUV that United States authorities said was carrying a family of eight - two parents and six adopted children - was travelling at 150kmh before it plunged off a cliff last week, according to court documents.

Sarah Hart was convicted in a 2011 case of domestic assault after her then 6-year-old daughter Abigail went to school with bruises on her back and stomach. Fifteen-year-old Devonte Hart, 16-year-old Hannah Hart, and 12-year-old Sierra Hart are still unaccounted for.

Officials still aren't sure when the crash took place. It remains unclear whether they were in the vehicle during the incident, and police have not yet found any eye witnesses.

Information pulled from the vehicle's software shows it was stopped at a flat, dirt pull-off area before it sped off the steep rocky face and plunged 100 feet, said Capt. Greg Baarts with the California Highway Patrol Northern Division.

"At this point in our investigation, that is the direction we are going", Baarts said.

Investigators said there was no evidence the auto collided with the embankment as it "traversed towards the tidal zone below".

Authorities say the speedometer in Jennifer and Sara Hart's vehicle was "pinned" at 90 miles per hour before it plunged off a cliff and crashed into the ocean below, killing the couple and three of their adoptive children.

Baarts said that "in this vehicle the speedometer is electronically controlled", which could have caused an electrical charge to give that reading, or it could have been unintentionally manipulated during the recovery efforts.

A Mendocino County Sheriff's Office spokesman told reporters at least one felony was committed, but declined to offer specifics.

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"It was pure acceleration from last brake application until it hit the bottom of the ocean - the edge of the ocean", Captain Baarts said, adding that no suicide note has been discovered.

The news station also obtained an affidavit for a search warrant that was served at the Hart family home in Woodland, Washington on Thursday.

The DeKalbs called Child Protective Services two weeks before the crash to report the situation.

Police have said conditions at the house indicated that any trip would have been temporary.

Five members of the Hart family were found dead. It showed him in tears hugging a police officer at a protest rally shortly after the killing of Michael Brown by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri. In the photograph, Devonte is crying in the officer's arms, and had been carrying a sign offering "Free Hugs". "I expected with the way things went from CPS getting called to where we are today-that was my expectation of what the outcome would be", said Bruce DeKalb Sunday evening.

CPS officials tried to contact the family on March 23, 26 and 27, according to spokeswoman Norah West.

CPS confirmed that they had opened an investigation, which identified the six adopted siblings as "potential victims of alleged abuse and neglect".

The department said it had no history with the family.

Friends of the Harts had a different view of the couple, describing them to CNN affiliate KOIN as loving parents who gave the kids everything they had and radiated positivity.


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