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Body found near site of Hart family crash, but connection unclear

The sheriff's office said it was investigating whether a body found is one of two missing girls, but an ID has not been made.
The pullout where the SUV of Jennifer and Sarah Hart was recovered off the off Pacific Coast Highway 1, near Westport, California.via AP

A body was found in the surf off Highway 1 in California Saturday not far from a crash off a cliff late last month in which five members of a family were killed and three others were missing, but authorities are unsure whether the discovery is connected to the case.

Jennifer Jean Hart and Sarah Margaret Hart, both 38, and three children — Markis, 19, and Jeremiah and Abigail, both 14 — have been confirmed dead in the March 26 crash off a cliff, and three other children, Hannah, 16, Devonte, 15, and Sierra, also 15, are missing. The sheriff’s office previously said Sierra is 12. It said that information was incorrect and she is 15.

The body found Saturday shortly before 2 p.m. local time (5 p.m. ET) appears that of an African-American female but an age and positive identification has not been determined, the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement.

The sheriff’s office said the body was found "in the immediate vicinity of the recent Hart Family crash."

"The Sheriff's Office is investigating the possibility that the body may be one of the two missing Hart girls but identification will most likely be done through DNA analysis, a process that can take several weeks,” the sheriff’s office said in a statement.

An autopsy was scheduled for Tuesday. The sheriff's office said in a statement said it was monitoring ocean conditions in order to conduct further searches and that "there were no other signs of the other missing Hart children."

California Highway Patrol officials said the Hart's GMC Yukon was traveling at 90 mph, with no signs of braking, when it traveled down a dirt turnout and plunged 100 feet into the ocean along a rocky stretch of beach about 3:30 p.m. that day. CHP detectives are probing the possibility the crash was intentional.

Devonte Hart was photographed in 2014 crying in the arms of a white police officer during a protest in Oregon over the police shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, in Ferguson, Missouri. The photo went viral and was called by one publication as the "hug felt 'round the world."