The new details are part of evidence presented during the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office coroner’s inquest on Wednesday

By Harriet Sokmensuer
April 03, 2019 06:58 PM

As the wreckage of Jennifer and Sarah Hart‘s SUV was pulled up  from the bottom of a 100-foot cliff off the Pacific Coast Highway in Northern California, Jennifer’s body slipped out of the crushed vehicle and fell. This was according to Mendocino County Sheriff Deputy Robert Julian, who testified during Wednesday’s coroner’s inquest presented by the Sheriff’s Office.

The impact would disfigure Jennifer’s face to the point that authorities were unable to identify her, Julian stated, noting that Sarah Hart was also unrecognizable.

“Death was obvious for all of them,” Julian said during the live-streamed testimony about Jennifer, Sarah and three of their six adopted children, Markis, Jeremiah and Abigail, who were found in the car with them. “They were cold — rigor mortis.”

The remains of two of the other children, aged 12 to 19, were found later, and the remains of one child, 15-year-old Devonte Hart, have still not been recovered, though he has been declared legally dead, Mendocino Sheriff-Coroner Tom Allman told PEOPLE.

Mendocino Sheriff/Facebook

RELATED: Sheriff Says California Cliff Crash That Killed Family Was No Accident: ‘I’m Calling It a Crime’

When authorities discovered the SUV, Sarah’s body was found pinned between her seat and the car’s roof. She was later identified by her Minnesota driver’s license, found near the wreckage. Sarah had toxic levels of Benadryl in her system at the time of the crash, and Jennifer was the only family member wearing a seat belt, as was revealed at the inquest.

Dr. Greg Pizarro, a forensic pathologist who testified on Wednesday, said he believed the family had died almost immediately after impact, and had perished from spinal injuries. However, the body of Sierra Hart — which was recovered two weeks following the wreck — was decomposed to the point that he could not determine how she died.

This new insight into the crash and the subsequent recovery of the Hart family’s bodies was part of the evidence presented during the coroner’s inquest on Wednesday.

The inquest is being presented more than a year after the crash, which killed Jennifer, Sarah, and their six children.  Authorities hope the inquest will bring a close to the high-profile case, which sparked national headlines when authorities announced the fatal car crash was a crime —  not an accident. The family’s picture-perfect online image also drew debate, as disturbing details leaked out about the realities the children had experienced at home.


Over the course of two days — Wednesday and Thursday — authorities are presenting evidence from the Hart investigation to a jury, which will decide on the manner of death for each family member.

The inquest is being live-streamed on the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office Facebook page. 

“The purpose [of the inquest] is to get the evidence out as quick as possible,” Sheriff-Coroner Tom Allman told PEOPLE, noting that until the 1960s, inquests were standard policy. “There is a heaping amount of evidence and honestly it belongs to the public.”

He continues: “There’s just so many unknowns on this, but now we think we know a lot of the unknowns.”

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Thomas Boyd/The Oregonian/AP