New Testimony in Family's Fatal SUV Plunge

Jury will decide whether it was accidental or a murder-suicide
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Apr 4, 2019 11:22 AM CDT
Testimony Reveals Details of Family's Fatal SUV Plunge
In this March 27, 2018, photo, a helicopter hovers over steep coastal cliffs near Mendocino, Calif., where a vehicle, visible at lower right, plunged off a cliff along Highway 1.   (California Highway Patrol via AP, File)

Jen and Sarah Hart and three of their adopted children died of broken necks after their SUV plunged off a Northern California cliff, a forensic pathologist testified during a coroner's inquest Wednesday to help authorities classify the deaths. A jury in Willits will decide whether the March 2018 deaths of the two women and their six children were accidental or a murder-suicide, per the AP. The crash happened just days after authorities in Washington state opened an investigation following allegations the children, ages 12 to 19, were being neglected. The bodies of the women were inside the SUV when it was discovered, but one of them fell out as the vehicle was being towed up the cliff off the coast of Mendocino County, Sheriff Deputy Robert Julian said during testimony. Julian testified he was able to identify Sarah Hart through a Minnesota driver's license.

"I wasn't able to identify Jennifer Hart due to her fall," Julian said. She was later identified by authorities. Forensic pathologist Greg Pizarro testified that Jennifer Hart was drunk when she drove her large family off the cliff, saying an autopsy found she had a blood alcohol level of 0.102. California drivers are considered drunk with a level of 0.08. She was also the only one wearing a seatbelt. Sarah Hart and the children had large amounts of diphenhydramine in their systems, a drug that can cause drowsiness. The bodies of siblings Markis, Jeremiah, and Abigail were found the same day near the car. Weeks later, the body of Ciera Hart was pulled from the ocean. Human remains found in a shoe were matched to Hannah Hart through DNA testing. The remains of 15-year-old Devonte Hart have not been found. (Devonte once became famous over a hug.)

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