Perhaps the most troubling clue is what investigators didn’t find.There were no skid marks or brake marks in the area leading up to the fatal crash.
And there were no witnesses to help guide police on what happened. The SUV was discovered only after a passer-by saw the mangled wreckage below the cliff.
Data from the vehicle’s software air bag module and software suggest the car had stopped at the scenic highway outcrop overlooking the cliff and then accelerated off the road, said Greg Baarts of the California Highway Patrol’s Northern Division.
And that leads police to believe the crash may have been intentional.
“At this point in our investigation, that is the direction we are going,” Baarts said.
Jennifer and Sarah Hart once lived in Minnesota, where Sarah Hart pleaded guilty to misdemeanor domestic assault involving one of the children in 2010, according to Douglas County court records.
Then, about 10 months ago, the Harts moved into their home in Woodland, Washington, neighbor Bruce DeKalb said. He said the family was “very private.”
Another neighbor, Bill Groener, said the children were home-schooled and kept inside most of the time.
Pleas for help
DeKalb said Devonte and one of his sisters had told him they were being mistreated. The neighbor recalled two disturbing encounters he had with the children.
“One of the girls came to the door at 1:30 in the morning and said that she needed help and the parents were not treating her properly, and (she) wanted us to protect her,” DeKalb said.
“We ended up getting her back to her parents … and then I went over there the next morning and just checked on things, and everything seemed normal, and we let it go from there.”
DeKalb said Devonte was the only child he saw doing chores outside, such as taking the garbage bins to and from the street.
Then, starting about two weeks ago, Devonte “started coming over asking for food and saying that they were taking meals away from him due to punishment,” DeKalb told HL”It started out as one time a day and escalated up to three times a day, until a week went by and we decided that we needed to get professional help.”
DeKalb said he called Child Protective Services on March 23, and officials arrived just after Jennifer Hart came home from work. But she didn’t answer the door.
Sarah Hart came home soon after, DeKalb said. By the next morning, the family and their vehicle were gone.
Child Protective Services tried to visit the family twice more, on March 26 and 27, but couldn’t make contact, the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services said.
The department said it had no prior history with the Hart family. But the search continues for the three missing children.