SAN FRANCISCO – The Latest on a coroner’s inquest into the deaths of a family whose SUV went off a Northern California cliff (all times local):
A coroner’s jury ruled Thursday that two women killed themselves and their six adopted children when they drove off a Northern California cliff last year.
The Mendocino County jury deliberated for about an hour before delivering the unanimous verdicts after nearly two full days of testimony.
The crash happened days after authorities in Washington state opened an investigation following allegations the children, ages 12 to 19, were being neglected by Jennifer and Sarah Hart.
The bodies of the women were found in the vehicle, which landed upside down below a cliff more than 160 miles (250 kilometers) north of San Francisco.
The bodies of four children were recovered and a fifth was matched to remains found in a shoe. The remains of 15-year-old Devonte Hart have not been found.
An investigator says that soon before her wife drove their family off a cliff, Sarah Hart researched whether it was relatively painless to die by drowning.
The California Highway Patrol investigator testified about the searches Thursday in Mendocino County.
A special coroner’s jury is trying to determine whether the March 2018 deaths of the couple and their six adopted children were murder-suicide or accidental. Authorities have called the deaths intentional, but want a jury to decide.
Jake Slates said at the inquest that Jennifer Hart, who rarely drank, was extremely intoxicated and may have been “drinking to build up her courage.”
Sarah Hart and the children had high amounts of Benadryl in their systems.
The crash happened days after Washington state authorities began investigating whether the children were being neglected.