Drunken driving found in family's fatal cliff-side California wreck

LOS ANGELES, April 13 (Reuters) - The woman behind the wheel of an SUV that careened off a coastal roadside cliff in Northern California last month, killing her and seven family members, was driving drunk at the time, police said on Friday.

The finding from toxicology tests performed on the body of Jennifer Jean Hart marked the latest clue divulged by investigators seeking to unravel the fate of the woman, her wife and their six adopted children.

The family's demise in late March came just days after child welfare authorities in their home state of Washington opened an inquiry into allegations that the children were being abused or neglected, according to police and social services agencies.

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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 remains of Jennifer and Sarah Margaret Hart, both 38, and three of the children were found in the wreckage of a GMC Yukon after it ran off California Highway 1 and plunged over a steep embankment onto the rocky shoreline below.

The crash scene, about 200 miles north of San Francisco, was discovered by a passing motorist on March 26.

The three other children, who were believed to have also been in the SUV when it went over the cliff, remained missing but were presumed killed, police have said.

The remains of a girl believed to be among them was found washed up on the banks of an adjacent creek days later, but California Highway Patrol Sergeant Robert Powers said she has not yet been positively identified.

One of the two still missing was 15-year-old Devonte Hart, an African-American youth who gained attention in 2014 after being photographed embracing a white police officer during a protest following the fatal police shooting of a young black teenager in Ferguson, Missouri.

Mendocino County Sheriff Tom Allman has said he considers the crash probe a criminal investigation.

He noted that the Yukon had traveled some 75 feet along an unpaved roadside pullout before running off the cliff, leaving behind no skid or brake marks, indicating the vehicle may have been driven off the cliff intentionally.

Lab results on the driver's body found she had a blood-alcohol concentration above the state's legal limit of 0.08 percent, Powers said. But he declined to say precisely how high it was.

He said examiners also found traces of an over-the-counter antihistamine that can cause drowsiness in the systems of the wife and two children.

Police have said a search of the family's home in Woodland, Washington, turned up no suicide note.

(Reporting by Steve Gorman; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

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