Missing children believed dead after California SUV cliff crash


April 6 (Reuters) - Three children missing since their mother drove their vehicle off a California cliff are believed to be dead and search operations are now focused on recovering their bodies from the Pacific Ocean, police said on Thursday.

Interviews with relatives and friends suggest all six of the family's children were inside the sports utility vehicle when it plunged off a coastal cliff last week, police said in a statement.

The bodies of driver Jennifer Hart, 38, Sarah Hart, 38, a married white couple, and three of their African-American adopted children were recovered after the March 26 crash.

Police had been searching for the missing children along the coastal highway the family took, but are now more certain than ever that their bodies were swept into the ocean after their GMC Yukon fell 100 feet (30 meters) onto seashore rocks.

SEE ALSO: Mom of six drove SUV before fatal family crash in California

The crash occurred three days after child welfare services opened an investigation into allegations of potential abuse or neglect of the children at their home in Woodland, Washington.

"Information obtained through interviews with family and friends indicated it was rare for the family to be apart, especially while traveling," Mendocino County Sheriff's office said in a statement.

More on the fatal crash: 

11 PHOTOS
Hart family and the California cliff crash investigation
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Hart family and the California cliff crash investigation

MENDOCINO COUNTY, CA. – The California Highway Patrol (CHP), in conjunction with Sheriff Thomas Allman, Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office, and other allied agency partners throughout Washington and Oregon is continuing an active search for missing children, Hannah Hart, age 16, Devonte Hart, age 15, and Sierra Hart, age 12.

Based upon the investigation to date, it is believed the Hart family was in or around the Newport, Oregon area around 8:15am on Saturday morning, March 24, 2018. It is believed they continued south along US 101 until they reached State Route 1 in Legget, California. The family traveled south along State Route 1 until they reached the Fort Bragg area in Mendocino County around 8:00pm on Saturday evening, March 24, 2018. The family remained in the Fort Bragg, Cleone areas until approximately 9:00pm on Sunday evening, March 25, 2018. (The below map provided is the approximate route of travel.) There is no further information at this time regarding the whereabouts of the Hart Family immediately preceding the incident.

03/25/2018 at 8:05am, Jennifer Hart at the Safeway in Fort Bragg Ca. (see Photo)
Anyone with known information pertaining to the families route of travel, places where they stopped, may have come into contact with or have any information regarding the Hart Family are asked to call the California Highway Patrol – Ukiah Area office at (707) 467-4000 or the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office at (707) 463-4086.

(Photo: CHP Ukiah)
The terrain is especially rugged along this section of the Mendocino coastline. We greatly appreciate the help of… https://t.co/zCZFqHqxBq
The search for the remaining 3 members of the #HartFamily continues https://t.co/1dujCrAii9
Thank you to all the agencies, staff (both paid and volunteer) for helping in today's efforts on the Mendocino Coas… https://t.co/tFqpveFyPi

MENDOCINO COUNTY, CA. – The California Highway Patrol (CHP), in conjunction with Sheriff Thomas Allman, Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office, and other allied agency partners throughout Washington and Oregon is continuing an active search for missing children, Hannah Hart, age 16, Devonte Hart, age 15, and Sierra Hart, age 12.

Based upon the investigation to date, it is believed the Hart family was in or around the Newport, Oregon area around 8:15am on Saturday morning, March 24, 2018. It is believed they continued south along US 101 until they reached State Route 1 in Legget, California. The family traveled south along State Route 1 until they reached the Fort Bragg area in Mendocino County around 8:00pm on Saturday evening, March 24, 2018. The family remained in the Fort Bragg, Cleone areas until approximately 9:00pm on Sunday evening, March 25, 2018. (The below map provided is the approximate route of travel.) There is no further information at this time regarding the whereabouts of the Hart Family immediately preceding the incident.

The family was traveling in a 2003 GMC Yukon LX with black rims. Similar to this vehicle in this photo (Not actual vehicle). 

Anyone with known information pertaining to the families route of travel, places where they stopped, may have come into contact with or have any information regarding the Hart Family are asked to call the California Highway Patrol – Ukiah Area office at (707) 467-4000 or the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office at (707) 463-4086.

(Photo: CHP Ukiah)
The Mendocino County Sheriff's Office posted on social media thanking a number of agencies for helping in the search efforts for the three Hart children

(Photo: Mendocino County Sheriff's Office)

The Mendocino County Sheriff's Office posted on social media thanking a number of agencies for helping in the search efforts for the three Hart children

(Photo: Mendocino County Sheriff's Office)

The Mendocino County Sheriff's Office posted on social media thanking a number of agencies for helping in the search efforts for the three Hart children

(Photo: Mendocino County Sheriff's Office)

NOW: Search & Rescue teams are looking in between large rocks along the Mendocino County shoreline for any sign of… https://t.co/oaR7w3VxI8
I talked to a close friend of the Hart family. She said the family was loving and she thinks they may have misjudge… https://t.co/aEsAc7bgEP
A close friend of the Hart family tells me there was nothing but love in their home. Also says all six of the kids… https://t.co/Fs5D88uiH0
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The county's Sheriff Tom Allman on Wednesday said he considered the crash a crime, based on evidence that Hart had stopped the family SUV about 70 feet from the cliff at a scenic viewpoint some 180 miles (290 kms) north of San Francisco, before driving it over the edge.

There were no tire marks that may have suggested rapid acceleration or erratic movements, indicating the vehicle was steadily driven from a standstill towards the edge, California Highway Patrol spokesman Cal Robertson said on Thursday.

Police have yet to ascertain whether a struggle took place between Hart and her partner or whether all the children were alive at the time of the incident, Allman told CNN on Wednesday.

The missing children include 15-year-old Devonte Hart, who gained notoriety in 2014 after being photographed hugging a white police officer at a protest after the fatal police shooting of a young black teenager in Ferguson, Missouri. (Reporting by Andrew Hay; Editing by Bernadette Baum)

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