Child Welfare Worker Called 911 the Day Family of Eight's Car Was Found at Bottom of California Cliff
All eight members of the Hart family are presumed dead
Washington officials have released a 911 call made by a child welfare worker who was attempting to reach the Hart family on the day their SUV was found on the bottom of a California cliff.
The call, made by a child welfare employee with the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services, came into the Clark County emergency dispatch center shortly after 10:30 a.m. on March 26 — the same day the Harts’ vehicle was found at the bottom of a 100-foot cliff off the Pacific Coast Highway in Northern California, according to KOIN6.
The employee told 911 dispatchers she had tried to contact the family multiple times but had been unsuccessful, so she was calling 911 to request a welfare check, the outlet reports.
“Who are we checking on?” the Clark County emergency dispatcher asks the worker.
“The mothers are Sarah and Jennifer Hart, and according to my intake, they have six children in the home,” the worker says on the call, KTPV reports.
“I’ve been to the home Monday and Friday and knocked on the door just this morning, and I can get no response,” the worker says. “Different cars have been moving in and out, I noticed, so I feel like someone is there.”
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When asked why she was checking on the children, the worker says the department received “concerns that the children aren’t being fed,” CBS News reports.
On March 26, five of the eight members of the Hart family — parents Jennifer and Sarah and three of their children — were discovered dead at the bottom of the cliff.
Authorities have also said that Devonte, 15, Hannah, 16, and Sierra Hart, 12, remain unaccounted for and are feared dead.
On Saturday, officials from the California Highway Patrol announced that a body had been found “in the surf” around Highway 1, an area which is “in the immediate vicinity of the recent Hart Family crash.”
The body found on Saturday “appears to be that of an African American Female but the age and a positive identity could not be determined,” states a press release from the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office.
An autopsy on the body is pending.
Three days before the crash was reported, Washington State Department of Social and Health Services received a call reporting that the six Hart children appeared to be “potential victims of alleged abuse or neglect,” Norah West, the department’s spokeswoman, previously told PEOPLE.
In 2011, Sarah pleaded guilty to an abuse charge, admitting to taking her daughter into the bathroom, bending her over the edge of the bathtub and hitting her on the backside.
Sarah was originally charged with domestic assault and malicious punishment, according to court records. She agreed to plead guilty to the domestic assault charge and the malicious punishment charge was dropped.
She was sentenced to 90 days in jail — which was stayed — and one year of supervised probation, according to court documents.
Sheriff: Crash Was a Crime and Not an Accident
Mendocino County Sheriff Tom Allman said on April 4 that he believes the crash was a crime and not an accident.
“I’m to the point where I no longer am calling this an accident; I’m calling it a crime,” Allman said during an appearance on HLN’s Crime & Justice with Ashleigh Banfield.
Previously, authorities cited information pulled from the vehicle’s software as evidence that the vehicle may have purposefully been driven off the cliff.
Capt. Greg Baarts with the California Highway Patrol’s Northern Division said the Harts’ SUV was stopped at a flat, dirt pull-off area before it sped off the steep rocky face and plunged down toward the water.
Baarts also cited the lack of skid marks near the cliff’s edge — indicating that the vehicle did not attempt to brake.
However, police have not discussed a possible motive or whether a link exists between the crash and child abuse allegations in the family’s past — including Sarah’s guilty plea.
The Dekalbs, a neighbor couple, have told local media that they reported the suspected abuse of the children, and said that when state workers knocked on the Harts’ door, the family was allegedly home but did not answer.
“The next morning when we saw that the vehicle was gone, and then Sunday morning when it still wasn’t there, we figured something was off,” Bruce Dekalb told TV station KGW.