5 killed as car plunges off California’s coastal highway

National / World

An ocean search effort is underway for three more children who may have been in an SUV that went over a cliff Monday on the California coast.

The crash left at least five family members dead. The California Highway Patrol has recovered the bodies of two married women and three of their six adopted children.

It’s not clear whether the three additional children were inside the SUV, but a search is continuing as part of the investigation, the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office said.

Jennifer Jean Hart, 39, and Sarah Margaret Hart, 39, who recently moved to Woodland, Wash., died when a 2003 GMC Yukon drove off a dirt turnout. Three of their children, 19-year-old Markis Hart, 14-year-old Jeremiah Hart and 14-year-old Abigail Hart, were found dead after the crash.

The couple’s other three children, 12-year-old Sierra Hart, 16-year-old Hannah Hart and 15-year-old Devonte Hart are considered missing.

Devonte Hart gained national attention when he hugged a police officer during a rally in Portland in 2014. A photo of that hug was shared by thousands of people around the world.

The Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office says it is unclear if the three missing children were with their parents in the SUV at the time of the crash, or were staying with friends. Clark County sheriff’s deputies checked on the family’s Woodland home on Monday, March 26, and informed California authorities that it appeared the family left on a temporary trip. No one was there, but animals and family belongings were still at the home.

The Clark County Sheriff’s Office said Child Protective Services visited the Harts’ home on Friday, March 23. CPS had received report that the children were not being fed.

Jennifer Hart was driving the SUV into a dirt turnout area and continued for unknown reasons off the cliff, according to the California Highway Patrol. The cause of the crash is under investigation. Drugs or alcohol are not believed to be factors.

Rescue crews rappelled down the cliff to reach the SUV, which had come to rest on its roof atop a large rock in ocean waters. The two women were still in the SUV and three of the children’s bodies were found outside of the vehicle.

None of the children wore seat belts, authorities said.

Sheriff’s deputies are searching the beach with boats, drones and aircraft. They plan to use divers as soon as the ocean conditions allow.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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