A truck drives by the cliff where the Harts’ SUV was recovered off the Pacific Coast Highway, near Westport, California. Picture: Alvin Jornada/The Press Democrat via AP
A truck drives by the cliff where the Harts’ SUV was recovered off the Pacific Coast Highway, near Westport, California. Picture: Alvin Jornada/The Press Democrat via AP

Body found near site of cliff plunge

A BODY has been recovered close to where an SUV plunged off a California cliff last month in what authorities suspect may have been an intentional crash that killed a family of eight.

The Mendocino County Sheriff's office said in a statement that a couple vacationing along the coast saw a possible body, which was pulled from the surf Saturday afternoon by a third bystander.

The body appears to be that of an African-American female, but the age and identity could not immediately be determined, said Lieutenant Shannon Barney. An autopsy is planned for Tuesday to determine a cause of death.

While authorities said they believe the body may be that of one of two missing girls from the crash, positive identification will most likely be done by DNA analysis, which could take weeks.

Sarah and Jennifer Hart and their six adopted children were believed to be in the family's SUV when it plunged off a cliff last month.

Five bodies were found March 26 near Mendocino, a few days after Washington state authorities began investigating the Harts for possible child neglect, but three of their children were not immediately recovered from the scene.

A body of an African-American female has been found near the site where an SUV carrying the Hart family plunged off a cliff. Picture: Thomas Boyd/The Oregonian via AP
A body of an African-American female has been found near the site where an SUV carrying the Hart family plunged off a cliff. Picture: Thomas Boyd/The Oregonian via AP

There were no signs of the other two children, authorities said Saturday.

Authorities have said that data from the vehicle's software suggested the crash was deliberate. They said the SUV had stopped at a coastal highway overlook before speeding straight off the cliff and plummeting 30 metres into the rocky Pacific Ocean below. There were no skid or brake marks.

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.

Five bodies were initially recovered from the bottom of the cliff in California, but two of the adopted Hart children are still missing. Picture: Facebook
Five bodies were initially recovered from the bottom of the cliff in California, but two of the adopted Hart children are still missing. Picture: Facebook

Bruce and Dana DeKalb, the family's next-door neighbours in Woodland, Washington, called child welfare officials last month because the couple's 15-year-old son, Devonte, had been coming to their house almost every day for a week, asking for food. They said the teen claimed his parents were "punishing them by withholding food."

The couple’s adopted son Devonte Hart was pictured hugging a police officer in a viral photo in 2014. Neighbours called child welfare last month because they were concerned about the 15-year-old. Picture: Johnny Huu Nguyen via AP, File
The couple’s adopted son Devonte Hart was pictured hugging a police officer in a viral photo in 2014. Neighbours called child welfare last month because they were concerned about the 15-year-old. Picture: Johnny Huu Nguyen via AP, File

Devonte, who is still missing, drew national attention after he was photographed in tears while hugging a white police officer during a 2014 protest.

The discovery of the body Saturday follows a two-day storm that swept through Northern California.

The sheriff's office noted that it is not uncommon after a significant storm that items would surface or wash onto the beach.

"The Mendocino County Sheriff's Office is monitoring the ocean conditions to see when further searches might be safely conducted," Barney said. "This evaluation includes the use of divers if conditions permit."



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