At the end of March 2018, a family from Washington drove off the California coast, crashing to their deaths. Now, a jury has ruled that the accident was deliberate.
Jennifer and Sarah Hart gave their six adopted children as many as 19 doses each of Benadryl before driving their SUV over a steep cliff and into the Pacific Ocean in the middle of the night last year, a jury determined on Thursday according to USA Today.
The jury ruled that the two women, who were married, killed their entire family deliberately. Last year, Police said that several facts led them to believe the crash may have been intentional. Most notably there were no skid marks at the scene.
Later, the SUV's black box showed that Sarah Hart drove off the cliff at full throttle. Prior to driving off the cliff, there were troubling searches on Hart's phone including: “Can 500 mgs of Benadryl kill a 120-pound woman?” and “Is death by drowning relatively painless?”
The bodies of Jennifer and Sarah Hart were found on March 26, 2018, inside the family's SUV, which had crashed at the rocky shoreline below a cliff. The bodies of three of their adopted children, Markis, 19, Jeremiah, 14, and Abigail, 14, were found nearby. The bodies of Hannah, 16, and Sierra, 12, were later found. The body of Devonte, 15, was never recovered.
Sarah Hart, who was not driving, had 42 doses of the generic, sleep-inducing drug in her system. The children also had high levels of the drug in their bodies.
The family had a troubled past. When they were living in Minnesota, Sarah Hart pleaded guilty to misdemeanor domestic assault involving one of the children in 2010, according to Douglas County court records.
That child had complained of pain in her stomach and back. The teacher found bruises. Authorities discovered that Sarah Hart had spanked the child over the edge of the bathtub because of the child's behavior. She was sentenced to community service and one year of probation.
They moved to Woodland, Washington, ten months before their deaths. Their neighbor Bruce DeKalb said they were "very private" and kept their children in the house most of the time. The children were also homeschooled.
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."
People reports that three days before the crash, Washington State Department of Social and Health Services received a call saying the Hart children appeared to be “potential victims of alleged abuse or neglect,” according to Norah West, the department’s spokeswoman.
The state’s DSHS tried subsequently tried to contact the family three times—on March 23, 26, and 27. They were unsuccessful in the first instance and the family had already perished in the crash by the time of the last two calls.
Neighbors told KATU News they saw the family leave on Friday, March 23, shortly after a Child Protective Services worker visited their home.
This is a terrible tragedy. Please pray for an end to all violence of parents against their children.