Family of 8 likely dead after SUV plunges off cliff
A surveillance video believed to show one of the Hart mothers is being reviewed as a possible clue in deciphering the route the eight family members took — and in the search of the three children who were reported missing but presumed dead after their SUV accelerated off the California cliff.
Authorities have spent days retracing the Hart Tribe’s steps since the family’s battered SUV was found overturned at the bottom of the cliff just off the Pacific Coast Highway, about 150 miles north of San Francisco. The investigation found that the family of eight was believed to be in the Newport, Ore. area around 8:15 a.m. on March 24, two days before their vehicle was found, California Highway Patrol said in a Wednesday news release.
The Hart family’s vehicle was found at the bottom of a cliff on March 26. Three of the children are still missing, but presumed dead.
“It is believed they continued south along US 101 until they reached State Route 1 in Legget, California. The family traveled south along State Route 1 until they reached the Fort Bragg area in Mendocino County around 8:00pm on Saturday evening, March 24, 2018,” the news release said.
A map released by California Highway Patrol showed the coastal route the family possibly took. Authorities retraced the route based on cellphone pings, Officer Cal Robertson told Oregon Live.
Police said the route goes cold, however, by Sunday just after 8 a.m. — when a surveillance video at a Safeway in Fort Bragg appeared to show Jennifer Hart at the register buying bananas and several other items. It’s unclear where the Harts went after the incident.
Surveillance video believed to be showing Jennifer Hart at a Safeway a day before she was found dead with five other family members.
Initial reports said that signs showed the family planned for a short trip.
Their battered SUV was found on March 26. Jennifer and Sarah Hart, both 38, were in the SUV at the time of the crash. The three children — Markis Hart, 19; Jeremiah Hart, 14; Abigail Hart, 14 — were found at the scene when authorities found the vehicle.
Authorities mapped out the route they believe the Harts traveled along before they were found dead.
Devonte Hart, 15, Hannah Hart, 16, and Sierra Hart, 12, are still missing. Mendocino County Sheriff Lt. Shannon Barney said rescuers will be searching the water near the crash site Wednesday morning for the three children, who were presumed to be in the vehicle during the crash, Oregon Live reported.
On Tuesday, Alexandra Argyropoulos told The Associated Press she alerted Oregon welfare officials about Jennifer and Sarah Hart because she felt they were withholding meals from their six adopted children. Argyropoulos said she "witnessed [in 2013] what I felt to be controlling emotional abuse and cruel punishment" toward the children by the couple, who were living in West Linn at the time.
"My heart is completely broken. The current system failed to protect these children from their abusers," Argyropoulos said.
The photo of the SUV released by CHP that is the same one the Hart family was in before the deadly crash.
Argyropoulos said she was told the children had been interviewed but there was nothing more the Oregon Department of Human Services could do because there was not enough evidence to make a case.
A similar instance also prompted neighbors Bruce and Dana DeKalb to alert Child Protective Services three days before the family was found dead. They feared Devonte — who gained nationwide fame after a photo of him at a 2014 Portland, Ore., rally holding a “Free Hugs” sign went viral — was going hungry because he been coming over to their house too often in the past week asking for food.
Authorities attempted to reach the family three times and made their third attempt the day after their SUV was found.
Investigators believe the deadly crash may have not been an accident — as originally thought — after evidence suggested the driver, Jennifer Hart, accelerated off the side of the road. Court documents stated the speedometer of the SUV was pinned at 90 mph, though authorities warned the device could have been altered at impact.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Katherine Lam is a breaking and trending news digital producer for Fox News. Follow her on Twitter at @bykatherinelam