The California Highway Patrol pointed tonight to evidence that Jennifer Hart intentionally drove her family's SUV off a Pacific Ocean cliff, killing her wife and six adopted children.
Highway Patrol officials told KGW-TV and the Associated Press that they believe a felony was committed on the scene. Officials say their evidence includes a new fact: that the family's SUV came to a stop at a highway turnoff, then sped another 70 feet to the cliff's edge without skid marks showing anyone hit the brakes.
"Pure acceleration all the way," a highway patrol spokesperson told KGW.
Officials did not say who might have committed the felony, but Jennifer Hart was found in the driver's seat.
The death of the Hart family off a Northern California cliff has gripped and horrified the Pacific Northwest since news broke Wednesday that the car had been found on lying on its roof in the ocean.
Jennifer and Sarah Hart, both 38, were found dead in the vehicle. Three of their children—Markis, Jeremiah and Abigail—were found nearby. Three other children—Sierra, Hannah and Devonte—have not been found, but officials now believe they were in the SUV and killed in the crash.
The Harts, who adopted six children from Texas to live in Minnesota, then Oregon and Woodland, Wash., were well known in the Portland area as a regular presence at progressive political rallies and festivals like Beloved. Devonte Hart became famous in 2014 when an Oregonian photographer captured the teenageer hugging a Portland police officer and weeping at a march against police violence.
Over the weekend, Portland media have closely scrutinized the self-styled, homeschooling family—described by some friends as free-spirited and deeply loving, and by other neighbors as potentially abusive. One neighbor in Woodland had called Child Protective Services on the family last week out of fear they were starving their children.
Capt. Greg Baarts of the California Highway Patrol's Northern Division, confirmed to media tonight that the vehicle's odometer showed the vehicle traveling at 90 miles per hour at impact.
"It was documented at the time of the crash, the vehicle was 'pinned' or was traveling at 90 mph. However, that information is not conclusive or factual," he told outlets including KGW. "The speedometer could have moved at impact or somehow was manipulated.
"While it has been documented that the car was traveling at 90 mph upon impact, it is not conclusive whatsoever," he added. "We do have reason to believe, however, that the crash was intentional. This is all based on preliminary information."