US family drove off cliff to their deaths in murder-suicide

Ms Jennifer Hart and her partner Sarah Margaret Hart (far right) with their six adopted children (from left) Hannah, Abigail, Ciera, Jeremiah, Devonte and Markis in Vancouver, Washington, in 2016. The family died last year when their car (below) plun
Ms Jennifer Hart and her partner Sarah Margaret Hart (far right) with their six adopted children (from left) Hannah, Abigail, Ciera, Jeremiah, Devonte and Markis in Vancouver, Washington, in 2016. The family died last year when their car plunged off a cliff in California.PHOTO: MENDOCINO SHERIFF/FACEBOOK
Ms Jennifer Hart and her partner Sarah Margaret Hart (far right) with their six adopted children (from left) Hannah, Abigail, Ciera, Jeremiah, Devonte and Markis in Vancouver, Washington, in 2016. The family died last year when their car (below) plun
Ms Jennifer Hart and her partner Sarah Margaret Hart with their six adopted children Hannah, Abigail, Ciera, Jeremiah, Devonte and Markis in Vancouver, Washington, in 2016. The family died last year when their car (above) plunged off a cliff in California.PHOTO: YOUTUBE

ATLANTA • A family of eight known as the "Hart Tribe" died last year in a murder-suicide when their sports utility vehicle plunged off a 30m cliff in northern California, a coroner's inquest has said.

The mystery over why the family from Washington state perished in March last year on a scenic cliffside highway, about 290km north of San Francisco, garnered national attention.

A 14-member jury ruled that the deaths were the result of a "murder-suicide", Mendocino County Sheriff-Coroner Thomas Allman told a press conference late last Thursday after a two-day inquest.

"This was held so the truth can come out," he said. "We needed to know the facts of this case."

The eight family members - two women and their six adopted children - are believed to have been in the GMC Yukon in March last year when it accelerated to about 144kmh and drove over a cliff, the authorities said.

The bodies of Ms Jennifer Hart and her partner Sarah Margaret Hart, both 38, were found in the vehicle, which landed upside down, police said.

Ms Jennifer Hart is thought to have driven the car off the cliff three days after child protective services in Washington state opened an investigation into allegations that she and her partner had neglected or abused the children.

The children were Markis, 19; Hannah, 16; Devonte, 15; Jeremiah and Abigail, both 14; and Ciera, 12. The bodies of four children were later recovered. A fifth child was linked by DNA to human remains found in a shoe on the coast about 1.6km north of the crash site.

The remains of Devonte were never found, Mr Allman said.

Devonte, an African-American, drew international attention in 2014 when he was photographed embracing a white police officer at a rally to protest against the shooting of a black teenager in Ferguson, Missouri.

The two Hart women died by suicide, Mr Allman said.

The deaths of the six children were ruled to be murders.

There was no known motive, Mr Allman said.

Ms Jennifer Hart is thought to have driven the car off the cliff three days after child protective services in Washington state opened an investigation into allegations that she and her partner had neglected or abused the children.

A police autopsy has shown that Ms Jennifer Hart was legally drunk at the time of the crash.

Three children, along with Ms Sarah Hart, tested positive for an ingredient commonly found in the allergy drug Benadryl, which can make people sleepy, the sheriff's office has said.

"The Hart family is hopefully resting in peace," Mr Allman said in officially closing the case.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on April 07, 2019, with the headline 'US family drove off cliff to their deaths in murder-suicide'. Print Edition | Subscribe