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Jen Hart possibly sighted in Fort Bragg day before deadly crash, authorities say

UPDATED: Tue., April 3, 2018, 7:16 p.m.

This March 29, 2018, file photo shows the scene of the fatal crash on the Mendocino coast near Mendocino, Calif., where the SUV carrying the Hart family off a cliff, killing all passengers. (Kale Williams / Oregonian)
This March 29, 2018, file photo shows the scene of the fatal crash on the Mendocino coast near Mendocino, Calif., where the SUV carrying the Hart family off a cliff, killing all passengers. (Kale Williams / Oregonian)

The Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office is working to confirm that a surveillance video taken in Fort Bragg, California, shows Jen Hart the day before her family’s SUV was found at the bottom of a cliff along the Pacific coast.

“It looks like Jen,” Mendocino County Sheriff Lt. Shannon Barney said over the phone Tuesday.

Hart, her wife and three of her children were found dead Monday, March 26, with the SUV, and three of her children remain missing.

However, Barney said, the video “is very grainy.” Barney didn’t provide details on where the video was taken or how the Sheriff’s Office obtained it.

Several other sightings of the family in California haven’t panned out, Barney said, but the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office is hoping anyone who saw the family along their path from Washington state to the California beach will continue to come forward.

Barney said authorities are investigating one other sighting of the family in Fort Bragg but they haven’t confirmed it.

“What we’re looking to do is see if all the kids were with them,” Barney said. “That can kind of narrow our search.”

Barney said the search area for the missing children includes Portland, where there is a chance they are with friends.

When asked if the three could still be alive, Barney said, “I will say there’s a possibility because we can’t rule it out.”

But, he added, “the most probable thing is that they are with their parents.”

The search and rescue effort continues. Barney said six counties will work together Wednesday during morning low tides to search a larger area, based on Coast Guard computer modeling of water currents and drifts.

The search will include mainly ground units on the beaches but will also have a boat and a helicopter.

“There’s a big storm coming Thursday,” Barney said, which adds urgency to the search.

The Sheriff’s Office hasn’t determined what was in the vehicle when it crashed, and whether the family was prepared for a long trip.

“If the vehicle was there for a long period of time during a high tide cycle,” Barney said, “a lot of the stuff may have been carried out to sea.”

But, he added, “not a lot of property” was discovered with the SUV. “We don’t have a clear picture of what they had.”

With the investigation ongoing, Barney said he couldn’t say whether the crash was a homicide.

“We will consider all those angles,” he said, “anything from a terrible accident to a homicide is on the table.”

The initial autopsies are complete, Barney said, but it may be up to 60 days to get the results. It takes time for toxicology to come back, and the examiner needs to compare injuries found on the victims to what CHP concludes about the collision, before determining a cause of death.


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