Mom-of-8 Was Drunk When Her Family's SUV Plunged Off Cliff With Her Behind the Wheel: Police
California authorities said Friday that Jennifer Hart, the Washington woman who was driving when her family’s SUV went over a cliff in Northern California last month, was drunk at the time of the crash.
All eight members of the Hart family are presumed dead after their car plunged 100 feet down to the water off the Pacific Coast Highway sometime in late March. Their SUV was found on March 26.
Five members of the family were found dead at the bottom of the cliff, including both parents, while the remaining three members of the family — kids Devonte, 15, Hannah, 16, and Sierra Hart, 12 — remain unaccounted for and are feared dead.
On Friday, California Highway Patrol Capt. Bruce Carpenter said at a news conference that toxicology reports found Jennifer, who was behind the wheel, had a blood alcohol level of 0.102. (The legal limit is .08.)
Wife Sarah and two other children had high levels of an ingredient that is also found in Benadryl, Carpenter said.
A toxicology report for the third child is pending, he said. No one in the car was wearing a seat belt at the time of the wreck.
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On Saturday, authorities recovered a body that “appears to be that of an African American Female but the age and a positive identity could not be determined,” according to a new release from the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office.
Carpenter said Friday that dental records cannot be used to identify the body because authorities have been unable to locate a dentist who treated the kids, who were homeschooled.
A cell phone recovered near the crash is believed to belong to the Hart family, he said.
Investigators have said information pulled from the vehicle’s software indicated it may have been purposefully driven off the cliff.
In later comments, law enforcement was more emphatic.
“I’m to the point where I no longer am calling this an accident. I’m calling it a crime,” Mendocino County Sheriff Tom Allman said during an appearance last week on HLN.
Key questions remain about the incident, however, such as when it occurred and why the family was traveling in California hundreds of miles from their home. A motive has also not been publicly confirmed.
While some friends describe a seemingly loving family, the Harts had a history of child abuse. Records previously obtained by PEOPLE show that while they lived in Minnesota before moving to Oregon, Sarah pleaded guilty to domestic assault after hitting daughter Abigail, then 6.
During police questioning, Sarah admitted to letting her “anger get out of control” and to spanking Abigail, according to a criminal complaint against Sarah.
But according to the Oregonian, Abigail said it was actually Jennifer who hit her.
Three days before the crash was reported, Washington State Department of Social and Health Services received a call reporting that the six Hart kids appeared to be “potential victims of alleged abuse or neglect.”
After the crash, a neighbor who came forward as the one who called child welfare told local media: “I was trying to help them and protect them. That’s not how I thought it was going to end.”