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Sheriff Says Hart Family Crash Off California Cliff Is Now Considered A Crime

California authorities also released a timeline of the family's movements before the tragic crash.

By Jon Silman

The tragic story of a family who died after their SUV sped off a California cliff took a sharp turn, with authorities - for the first time - calling the accident a crime.

Mendocino County Sheriff Tom Allman went on the "Crime & Justice with Ashleigh Banfield" show on HLN on Wednesday.

"I'm to the point where I no longer am calling this an accident; I'm calling it a crime," Allman told HLN.

He said one of the spouses, Jennifer Hart, was driving the car when it plunged over the cliff off the Northern California coast.

Allman said both women, Jennifer Hart and her wife Sarah Hart, were wearing seat belts on March 26, when they were found dead in the vehicle. Three children - Markis, 19, Jeremiah, 14, and Abigail, 14 - were found near the vehicle and were not. The three other children - Devonte, 15, Hannah, 16, and Sierra, 12 - are still missing, officials said, according to CNN.

Additionally, the California Highway Patrol released a photo of Jennifer Hart at a grocery store, one day before the incident.

The surveillance photo shows mom Jennifer Hart buying bananas and other groceries. It's unclear where her family was at the time.

Based on the surveillance and cell phone pings, authorities came up with a timeline for the family before the crash, NBC News reported. They were south of Portland at 8:15 a.m. on March 24, then moved south along the coast into Northern California. The family was in the Fort Bragg area until 9 p.m. the next day, local time, and at some point decided to drive along the Highway. A passerby called authorities about an upside SUV on March 26 around 3:30 p.m. It fell 70 feet to the rocky coast below.

The Mendocino Sheriff's Office tweeted on Wednesday about the search and rescue efforts:

The California Highway Patrol Northern Division had pulled information from the vehicle's software. The SUV was stopped on a flat, dirt area before it sped off the face of the cliff and plummeted below. The speedometer was "pinned" at 90 miles per hour, according to The Oregonian. The vehicle's info, combined with the lack of skidding or any signs of braking, led authorities to believe the crash could have been intentional. 

Before they left, the parents were also under investigation for potential abuse and neglect, according to NBC News.

The family's deaths attracted national attention, with the social media users posting the hashtag #RIPHartFamily to honor them.

[Photo: Facebook] 

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