Questions surround crash in California


Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO

Nobody answered the door when a child-welfare worker went to the Washington state home of the big, free-spirited Hart family to investigate a neighbor’s complaint that the youngsters were going hungry.

Three days later, the Harts’ crumpled SUV was found at the bottom of a 100-foot seaside cliff in Northern California, all eight family members presumed dead in a mysterious wreck now under investigation. Five bodies have been recovered, but three children are still missing.

“There are a lot of unknowns on this,” Mendocino County Sheriff Tom Allman said. “Several of the questions that have been asked today will never be answered.”

Investigators have yet to determine the cause of the crash and said there is no reason so far to believe it was intentional. But they also said there were no skid marks or signs the driver braked as the GMC Yukon crossed a flat dirt pull-off area, about 75 feet wide, and went over the edge of the Pacific Coast Highway.

The case has thrown a spotlight on at least one previous run-in with the law by the Harts, along with neighbors’ repeated concerns about the way the home-schooled youngsters were being treated.

Some family friends, though, say that doesn’t track with their knowledge of the parents, Sarah and Jennifer Hart, as a loving couple who promoted social justice and exposed their “remarkable” children to art, music and nature.

The brood was known as the Hart Tribe, a multiracial family of two women and six adopted children who grew their own food, took spontaneous road trips to camp and hike, and traveled to festivals and other events, offering free hugs and promoting unity.

One of the children, Devonte Hart, drew national attention after the black youngster was photographed in tears, hugging a white police officer during a 2014 protest in Portland, Ore., over the deadly police shooting of a black man in Ferguson, Mo. Devonte was holding a “Free Hugs” sign.

But well before the wreck, Sarah Hart pleaded guilty in 2011 to a domestic assault charge in Douglas County, Minn., telling authorities “she let her anger get out of control” while spanking her 6-year-old adoptive daughter, court records show.

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