Sheriff says Hart family crash wasn't an accident: 'I'm calling it a crime'
MENDOCINO COUNTY, Calif. - The Mendocino County sheriff says he does not believe the crash that killed five members of the Hart family was an accident.
In an interview with HLN, Mendocino County Sheriff Tom Allman said, "I’m to the point where I’m no longer calling this an accident. I’m calling it a crime."
Investigators earlier said they believe parent Jennifer Hart drove the family's SUV off the Calif. cliff intentionally and crashed onto the rocks below.
Deputies found parents Jennifer and Sarah Hart and three of their adopted children - Markis, Abigail and Jeremiah - dead at the crash scene. The other three children were believed to be inside the vehicle at the time of the crash, but their bodies have not been found.
On Wednesday, the sheriff’s office conducted an extensive search along the coast and Pacific to locate the three missing Hart children. But, the 74 volunteers and 10 law enforcement personnel were unable to locate Devonte Hart, Hannah Hart and Sierra Hart.
Weather is preventing the search from continuing on the ocean over the next few days.
On Thursday, the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office issued a correction to a previous release that said Jennifer and Sarah Hart were wearing seat belts during the crash. The two parents were not wearing seat belts at the time of the crash.
On Sunday, authorities disclosed that data from the vehicle's software suggested the crash was deliberate. They said the SUV had stopped at a pull-off area before speeding straight off the cliff. The SUV's speedometer was pinned at 90 mph when found.
Sarah Hart pleaded guilty in 2011 to a domestic assault charge in Minnesota over what she said was a spanking given to one of her children.
Alexandra Argyropoulos, a former friend of the Harts, said she told Oregon child welfare officials in 2013 that Jennifer and Sarah Hart had been depriving the kids of food as punishment.
In a statement provided to The Associated Press, she said she "witnessed what I felt to be controlling emotional abuse and cruel punishment" toward the six children.
Two weeks ago, Bruce and Dana DeKalb, next-door neighbors of the Harts in Woodland, Washington, called state Child Protective Services because the couple's 15-year-old son Devonte had been coming over to their house almost every day for a week, asking for food.
Dana DeKalb said Devonte told her his parents were "punishing them by withholding food." The boy asked her to leave food in a box by the fence for him, she said.
Devonte drew national attention after he was photographed in tears while hugging a white police officer during a 2014 protest.