UPDATE: Former West Linn residents killed in California crash
Two women and three children who recently lived in West Linn were killed Monday, March 26, when an SUV drove off a cliff on Highway 1 in northern California, according to the California Highway Patrol. On Wednesday, CHP announced that the couple had a total of six children and a search and rescue operation was underway for the other three kids.
Jennifer Jean Hart, 39, and Sarah Margaret Hart, 39, were identified as the adult victims Wednesday morning.
On Wednesday afternoon, CHP announced that the three children killed were 19-year old Markis Hart, 14-year-old Jeremiah Hart and 14-year-old Abigail Hart.
The three missing children are 15-year-old Devonte Hart, 16-year-old Hannah Hart and 12-year-old Sierra Hart. Police said it was unknown if those three children accompanied the family on the trip. CHP also confirmed that Devonte Hart was the boy in a viral 2014 photo that depicted him hugging a Portland police sergeant during a demonstration.
"After learning of three additional children who were unaccounted for, the (Mendocino) Sheriff's Office, the California Highway Patrol and the United States Coast Guard out of Fort Bragg immediately initiated a second search and rescue effort in the ocean waters where the accident occurred," CHP Captain Bruce Carpenter said in a press release Wednesday. "The California Highway Patrol launched a fixed wing airplane and a helicopter, the Coast Guard launched a rescue boat in the area, while the Mendocino County Sheriff's Search and Rescue responded to search the beach areas along the highway."
Carpenter added that as of Wednesday, ocean conditions prevented the use of rescue/recovery divers in the area, but that divers were on standby if conditions improved.
Jennifer Hart was identified by police as a West Linn resident, and CHP originally believed both women were from the West Linn area. However, after CHP contacted the Portland Police Department, the family was later tracked to an address in Woodland, Washington.
"The family home was checked and the three outstanding children were not located," Carpenter said. "The Mendocino County Sheriff's Office was advised by the Clark County Sheriff's Office it appeared the family may have left for a temporary trip as there were many family belongings still in the home as well as a pet and some chickens."
Clark County Sheriff's Office Sergeant Brent Waddell also confirmed that CCSO visited the home March 26 to do a welfare check. No one was home when CCSO knocked on the door.
Court records show that in 2011, Sarah Hart was charged in Alexandria, Minnesota for misdemeanor dometic assault and gross misdemeanor malicious punishment of a child. Hart was convicted on the domestic assault charge, but the child punishment charge was dismissed.
The crash took place near the coastal town of Westport, California. According to CHP, the vehicle, a 2003 GMC Yukon XL, was driving south on a remote section of the highway when it veered into a dirt turnout and continued over a cliff. The vehicle was found overturned on a rock and the passengers died at the scene.
CHP said drugs or alcohol were not considered to be a factor in the crash. The children in the car — two boys and a girl — were not wearing seatbelts, according to CHP.
What caused the crash and the time of day it occurred remain unknown. CHP said Wednesday morning that its Northern Division Multidisciplinary Accident Investigation Teams (MAIT) had been dispatched to investigate the crash.