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Mendocino Sheriff says crash was no accident, calls it ‘a crime’

The search for three children missing since their parents intentionally drove the family SUV over a Mendocino Coast cliff late last month was paused Thursday as a strong storm from the Pacific Ocean takes aim at the North Coast.

Mendocino County Sheriff’s Lt. Shannon Barney said that after the storm abates, authorities will gear up for one more search effort, scouring the rocky shoreline for any signs of Hannah, 16, Devonte, 15, and 12-year-old Sierra Hart.

For more than a week, investigators have indicated the crash that killed three of their siblings and both of their mothers was likely intentional, but in an interview Wednesday night on HLN, Mendocino County Sheriff Tom Allman went a step farther.

“I’m to the point where I am no longer calling this an accident; I’m calling it a crime,” he said.

He also confirmed that Jen Hart, 38, was in the driver’s seat and Sarah Hart, 38, was in the passenger’s seat when the family’s GMC Yukon XL went over the edge of a 100-foot coastal cliff north of Westport - something that has been suspected since the investigation began, but not confirmed.

In a news release Thursday morning, the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office said that neither Jen nor Sarah Hart was wearing seat belts, despite original reports they were.

None of the three Hart children found outside the wreckage was wearing seat belts, authorities said.

While the storm barrages the coast, investigators plan to turn their efforts toward tracking the family’s route from its home in Woodland, Washington to the California coast, including trying to glean information from a cellphone found near the crash site, and an iPad and laptop seized from the family’s home.

You can reach Staff Writer Christi Warren at 707-521-5205 or christi.warren@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @SeaWarren.

The search for three children missing since their parents intentionally drove the family SUV over a Mendocino Coast cliff late last month was paused Thursday as a strong storm from the Pacific Ocean takes aim at the North Coast.

Mendocino County Sheriff's Lt. Shannon Barney said that after the storm abates, authorities will try one more search, scouring the rocky shoreline for any signs of Hannah, 16, Devonte, 15, and 12-year-old Cierra Hart.

For more than a week, investigators have indicated the crash that killed three of their siblings and both of their mothers was likely intentional, but in an interview Wednesday night on HLN cable news channel, Mendocino County Sheriff Tom Allman went a step farther.

'I'm to the point where I am no longer calling this an accident; I'm calling it a crime,' he said.

He also confirmed that Jen Hart, 38, was in the driver's seat and Sarah Hart, 38, was in the passenger's seat when the family's GMC Yukon XL went over the edge of a 100-foot coastal cliff north of Westport — something that has been suspected since the crash, but not confirmed.

In a news release Thursday, the Mendocino County Sheriff's Office said that neither Jen nor Sarah Hart was wearing a seat belt, despite original reports they were. None of the three Hart children found outside the wreckage was wearing a seat belt either, authorities said.

While the storm barrages the coast, investigators plan to turn their efforts toward tracking the family's route from its home in Woodland, Washington to the California coast, including trying to glean information from a cellphone found near the crash site, and an iPad and laptop seized from the family's home.

But the sheriff's office said investigators believe the whole family was in the car when it crashed, given the family's history of traveling all together, and that the missing children's bodies were swept out with the waves in its aftermath.

Editor's note: The Sheriff's Office had initially identified the missing person from Woodland, Washington as Sierra Hart. The correct spelling is Cierra Hart. This article has been corrected to reflect this change.

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