April 20, 2018
Law enforcement investigators continue piecing together details about the lives of Jennifer and Sarah Hart as they try to determine what might have caused one or both of them to decide to end their lives and the lives of their six adopted children by driving off a California cliff. It is now coming out that reports about possible child abuse and neglect to child protective agencies in multiple states were made against the parents as far as 2008 and as recently as only days before their SUV accelerated off a road and plummeted approximately 100 feet into the ocean.
An accident soon becomes a crime scene
The discovery of an SUV on the rocks at the base of a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean was initially thought to be an accident. Jennifer and Sarah Hart were found in the upside-down vehicle and three of their six children were found on the rocky shoreline outside the vehicle. All of them were dead by the time rescuers got to the scene several hours after the incident actually occurred.
Facts began to emerge during the investigation leading law enforcement officials to question whether they were investigating an accident or a crime. Some of the facts that eventually caused the sheriff in Mendocino County to change his characterization of the incident from an accident to a crime included the following:
- The SUV traveled approximately 100 feet before it went over the cliff.
- The speedometer of the vehicle indicated it might have been traveling at 90 mph.
- None of the victims were wearing seatbelts.
- There was no evidence in the form of skid marks to indicate the driver attempted to stop or slow the vehicle.
Information about child abuse and domestic violence allegations contributed to the investigation into the accident focusing on criminal activity as the cause rather than it being an accident.
A body found in the water weeks after the accident was identified as being one of the three missing children. The other two children who investigators believe were in the vehicle at the time of the crash are presumed to be dead.
A history of child abuse complaints
Jennifer and Sarah Hart began their family by adopting two children while they lived in Minnesota. Eventually, their family would grow through adoption to include a total of six children.
Sarah Hart entered a guilty plea to domestic assault in 2010 after a school teacher saw bruises on one of the children who had complained of being in pain. The mother claimed she hit the child for misbehaving.
Other complaints to child protective services included the withholding of food from the children and cruelty were made against the parents in Oregon and Washington where the family moved. The last report to authorities was only days before the family left its home in Washington, so officials were never able to speak with the parents about it.
When the family lived in Oregon, there were reports to child protective services. Those reports were never made known to officials in Washington after the family relocated there. Oregon officials claimed privacy laws prevented them from sharing their information about the family with officials in Washington.
The tragedy involving the Hart family might not have been preventable, but reporting child abuse allegations to state officials is essential for the protection of other victims. The Cifarelli Law Firm, LLP, has been at the forefront in California in aggressively pursuing compensation for the victims of child abuse, domestic violence sexual misconduct and sexual assault for more than 25 years. Our skilled and knowledgeable attorneys understand statutory rules and procedures that must be taken to preserve the rights of victims to receive maximum compensation for damages they suffer. Contact us today by calling (949) 502-8600 or use the form on our website to schedule a free and confidential consultation.