From the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office:
On 3/26/2018 around 4:16 PM the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office was dispatched the area of Highway 1 at County Road 430, also called Juan Creek, in Westport regarding a traffic accident involving multiple fatalities. The incident had been reported to fire officials and the California Highway Patrol around 3:38 PM, after a passerby used a pullout along the road and observed the vehicle off the embankment, upside down on the rocky shoreline.
While the Sheriff’s Office was enroute to the call it was learned there were possibly two adult females, two juvenile males, and one juvenile female deceased at the scene. The Sheriff’s Office initiated a Coroner’s Investigation. First responders continued recovery efforts until well after midnight. On 3/27/2018 around 0800 hours the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office confirmed the identity of the two adult females as Jennifer and Sarah Hart, a married couple who had previously resided in West Linn Oregon. It was later learned the decedent’s had 6 adopted children.
After learning of three additional children who were unaccounted for, the Sheriff’s Office, the California Highway Patrol, and the United States Coast Guard out of Fort Bragg CA immediately initiated a second search and rescue effort in the Ocean waters where the accident occurred. 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.
One of the unaccounted for children was Devonte Hart, who drew wide media attention in 2014, after having been photographed hugging a Portland Oregon Police Sergeant during a demonstration related to the events related to the unrest in Ferguson Missouri. The Sheriff’s Office reached out to the Portland Oregon Police Department and learned the family, due to intense media coverage, may have moved from Oregon. The family was tracked to a Woodland Washington address where, with assistance from the Clark County Washington Sheriff’s Office, the family home was checked and the three outstanding children were not located. 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.
On 3/28/2018 the three younger decedents have been positively identified with the help of family members. They are Markis Hart 19 years of age, Jeremiah Hart 14 years of age, and Abigail Hart 14 years of age. The three children who are still missing are Devonte Hart 15 years of age, Hannah Hart 16 years of age, and Sierra Hart 12 years of age. At this time it is unknown if the missing children accompanied their parents on the trip to Mendocino County or if they might be staying with friends.
On 3/28/2018 the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office responded to assist the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office by sending 6 Deputies trained in the operation of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), used for search and rescue incidents, to assist with combing the coastline in an effort to locate the three missing children. So far the ocean conditions have not allowed the use of rescue/recovery divers in the search efforts. The Mendocino County Sheriff’s Search and Rescue Team has diver’s on standby if the ocean conditions improve.
The cause of this accident is being investigated by the California Highway Patrol (CHP) Ukiah Office. All media inquiries related to the accident are being directed to the CHP at 707-467-4420. The Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office is conducting the Coroner’s Investigation, on going search and rescue operations, and the investigation related to the three children who are unaccounted for. Questions related to this can be directed to the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office at 707-463-4086.
The Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office would like to thank the California Highway Patrol, the Portland Oregon Police Department, the Clark County Washington Sheriff’s Office, the Grant County South Dakota Sheriff’s Office, the Huron City South Dakota Police Department, the Cowlitz County Department of Social Services, and the Alameda County California Sheriff’s Office for their assistance in this case.