California woman who drove family off cliff was drunk: sheriff

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Nearly eight days after the family of Sandeep Thottapilly went missing in the Eel River in Northern Mendocino County, California, a body suspected to be of one of the family members has been found.

The report and other case notes from the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services gives additional details into the family's life in Woodland.

The five bodies were recovered days after authorities in Washington State began investigating the couple for possible child neglect.

Searchers have found numerous items from the vehicle's body and interior.

Authorities also announced that investigations revealed that no one in the Hart vehicle was using seat belts.

The items had turned up over the course of searches of the South Fork of the Eel River over the past two days, the statement said.


"How is it in this great country of ours, two mothers with a history of reported child abuse in three states, disclosed by at least six adults, over a ten-year span still have custody of six children?"

The married moms had also faced child abuse accusations in Minnesota and OR, where they previously lived with their six children, ages 12 to 19, records show.

Devonte told the woman reporting the issues that his parents would sometimes abuse him.

Jennifer and Sarah Hart were white; their adoptive children were black.

Portland police Sgt. Bret Barnum, left, and Devonte Hart, 12, hug at a 2014 rally in Portland, Ore., where people had gathered in support of the protests in Ferguson, Mo.

One of their children, Abigail, told Minnesota authorities in 2010 that Jennifer Hart withheld food from her when she misbehaved, according to a police report.


Records and interviews with friends and neighbors show Jennifer and Sarah Hart were repeatedly accused of depriving their children meals as punishment over the years.

The county coroner is working on recovering the body, which Van Patten believed at 1:10 p.m. was still in the water. The caller was a father of a woman who lived next door to the Harts.

The finding from toxicology tests performed on the body of Jennifer Jean Hart marked the latest clue divulged by investigators seeking to unravel the fate of the woman, her wife and their six adopted children.

"These items were of a personal nature and will not be described further at this time, but it does confirm the fact the vehicle that was seen going into the river was that of the Thottapilly family", the California Highway Patrol said. Officials found no skid marks to indicate sudden acceleration or braking, according to a search-warrant affidavit.

Jen Hart had a blood-alcohol level above the legal limit, said Olegario Marin, a public-information officer with the California Highway Patrol.


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