WILLITS (CBS SF/AP) — A Washington state woman’s blood-alcohol level far exceeded California’s legal limit when she drove a SUV with her partner and six children inside off a Mendocino County Cliff along Highway 1 last year, a forensic pathologist testified on Wednesday.
Dr. Greg Pizarro was among the witnesses on day one of a two-day coroner’s inquest attempting to determine whether the deaths of Jennifer and Sarah Hart and their six adopted children were accidental, a murder-suicide or undetermined.
The 100-foot drop on March 26, 2018 killed the two women from Woodland, Wash. and their children Markis Hart, 19; Jeremiah Hart, 14; Abigail Hart, 14; Hannah Hart, 16; and Ciera Hart, 12. Devonte Hart, 15, is believed to have also died in the accident but his body has yet to be recovered.
Pizarro told the inquest jury that Jennifer Hart’s blood alcohol level was .102 at the of the crash — well above California’s limit of 0.08. He also testified that Sarah Hard had a high level of benedryl in her blood stream at the time of her death. He added that is was not the cause of her death, but neared toxic levels.
“Her levels of benedryl were really high,” Pizarro said.
The forensic expert said Jennifer Hart died of “multiple blunt force injuries” and was wearing her seat belt at the time of the crash. Sarah Hart also suffered numerous injuries and likely was not wearing her seat belt when the SUV plunged off the cliff.
Jared Chaney, who is the search and rescue coordinator for the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Department, described the intense search launched to recover all the bodies.
Initially, Chaney testified that deputies hoped to find someone alive, but the search was made more difficult because the base of the cliff was not easily accessible and the SUV had came to rest in the surf.
“We found a lot of floating debris coming up on shore,” he told the jury.
As the days passed, friends of the Hart family began showing up to help in the search, Chaney said. Hannah Hart’s foot was found weeks later by a hiker’s dog on a beach a ways from the crash scene.
Meanwhile, Mendocino County Sheriff Deputy Robert Julian told the inquest jury that the bodies of the women were inside the car and that as the car was being towed up the cliff, Jennifer’s body fell out along with a backpack and tumbled down 100 feet to the rocks below.
Julian says he was able to identify Sarah Hart through a Minnesota driver’s license found near the car. He says he was not able to immediately identify Jennifer Hart due to her fall.
Known as the Hart Tribe, the multiracial family of two married women — Sarah and Jennifer Hart — and six adopted children took spontaneous road trips to camp and hike and traveled to festivals and other events, offering hugs and promoting unity.
One of the children, Devonte Hart, drew national attention when the black youngster was photographed hugging a white police officer during a 2014 protest in Portland, Oregon, over the deadly police shooting of a black man in Ferguson, Missouri. Devonte was holding a “Free Hugs” sign.
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