After initially suspecting a crash that killed a family of eight was accidental, California authorities now believe the tragic incident may have been intentional.
Authorities say the speedometer in Jennifer and Sara Hart’s car was “pinned” at 90 mph before it plunged off a cliff and crashed into the ocean below, killing the couple and three of their adoptive children. The remaining three children are missing and believed to be in the ocean.
"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. The speedometer could have moved at impact or somehow was manipulated,” said Greg Baarts, Acting Assistant Chief for the California Highway Patrol.
"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.”
The Hart family gained national attention when a photo of 15-year-old Devonte Hart went viral. In the iconic image taken at a Black Lives Matter protest in 2014, the teary-eyed teen is seen holding a “free hugs” sign while hugging a local police officer. While the Hart family was apparently concerned about social justice, neighbors say Jennifer and Sara Hart mistreated their children.
Dana Dekalb, the couple’s neighbor, said she called Child Protective Services shortly before the family’s crash because she suspected Jennifer and Sara Hart of neglect and mistreatment.
"They portrayed this happy little family and yet their daughter is telling us please, please, please, begging us not to go back they're abusing her and then Devonte coming over here and telling us that he's being starved to death," she said.
While Dekalb believes her call to CPS may have precipitated the tragic incident, law enforcement officials have yet to make that determination.
As the investigation into the crash continues, a search warrant was issued for the Hart home in Woodland, Wash. and authorities hope it will lead to more clues about what happened that fateful day.