Brake failure, a blown tire? Look for clues in SUV wreck

SAN FRANCISCO – brake failure, a blown tire, and factors such as the weather and the road condition are some of the factors that will be viewed by the researchers will try to determine what the cause of an SUV with a Washington state family diving off a California cliff, but the authorities could never figure out exactly what happened.

The authorities don’t know exactly how or when the SUV — which was discovered Monday — went over the cliff, next to a place often used by motorists to walk with their pets. They say that they have no reason so far to believe it was an intentional crash that claimed the lives of two women, and at least three of their six adopted children just a few days after the child welfare authorities tried to contact the family about the concerns about the children’s living conditions.

But they also said that there are no skid marks or signs of the driver braked as the GMC Yukon on a flat dirt pull-off area, about 75 feet wide, and went over the edge of the Pacific Coast Highway.

“There are a lot of unknowns on this,” Mendocino County Sheriff Tom Allman said. “A number of the questions that have been asked today will never be answered.”

Allman appeal to anyone who would have seen that the family of eight to come forward. Three other children are missing and presumed dead.

The wreck was discovered by a passing motorist Monday afternoon. The women, both 38, were found dead in the SUV, while three of their children — Markis Heart, 19, Jeremiah Hart, 14, and Abigail, Heart -, 14 — were discovered outside of the vehicle.

A-team on Thursday continued to search the rugged coastline for the three other children, also believed to have been in the SUV: Hannah Hart, 16, Sierra Hart, 12, and Devonte.

The bread was known as the Heart Tribe, a multicultural family of two women and six children who grew their own food, took spontaneous road trips to camping and hiking, and traveled to festivals and other events, with free hugs and the promotion of unity.

One of the children, Devonte Hart, drew national attention after the black youngster was photographed in tears, hugging a white police officer during a 2014 protest in Portland, Oregon, over the deadly police shooting of a black man in Ferguson, Missouri. Devonte was holding a “Free Hugs” sign.

Experts say accident reconstruction experts have information to work with if they study how fast the car would go, and other factors.

That model of the Yukon was also probably equipped with a black box recorder that would show that the speed and the use of the brakes, said Marcus Mazza, an engineer and accident reconstruction expert with Lancaster, Pennsylvania-based Robson Forensic.

The researchers calculate the SUV’s speed on the basis of where they landed and the height of the drop.

“It’s basic physics,” Mazza said.

Friend of the family Max Ribner took issue with the notion it was anything other than a tragic accident. The couple — Sarah and Jennifer Hart — adopted the six children, many of whom come from hard backgrounds,” he said. “They transformed these children’s lives.”

On Thursday, authorities in the state of Washington also searched the family’s home for more information. The Clark County Sheriff’s Office said deputies were looking for invoices, receipts, or anything else to shed light on the reason why the family left and other circumstances related to the trip, KGW-TV reported.

Good for the wreck, Sarah Hart pleaded guilty in 2011 to domestic assault charges in Douglas County, Minnesota, telling authorities “she let her anger get out of hand”, while a beating of her 6-year-old adopted daughter, court records show.

Then, last week, Bruce and Dana DeKalb, neighbors of the Hearts in a Forest, Washington, called state child protective services on Friday, because Devonte, now 15, had come to their house almost every day for a week, the demand for food.

Dana DeKalb said Devonte told her that his parents were “to punish them by withholding food.” The boy asked her to eat in a box by the fence for him, ” she said.

Social service authorities, an investigation started, and a state caseworker went to the home last Friday, but not everyone is at home, state officials said. The agency had no history with the family, said Norah West, a spokeswoman for the Department of Social and health services.

On Saturday, the family SUV was gone from the driveway, said Bruce DeKalb.


Le reported from Seattle. Associated Press Writer Tom James contribution of West Linn, Oregon.

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