5 dead, 3 still missing after SUV was "intentionally" driven off cliff into ocean
MENDOCINO, Calif (KTVU) - The Mendocino County Sheriff's Office confirmed Sunday evening that a horrific crash off a Northern California cliff into the Pacific Ocean is being investigated as an intentional act.
The remains of five family members were located at or near the site of the crashed GMC Yukon SUV, which was discovered upside down in the ocean waters. Three additional family members are still missing, and are believed to have been in the vehicle at the time of the crash.
Information provided to the media earlier this weekend suggested the vehicle was traveling at 90 miles per hour as it impacted the ocean floor. Mendocino Sheriff's clarified Sunday evening that the 90 MPH figure was inaccurate and exaggerated due to the force of the impact.
Data recovered by a "black box recorder" in the SUV, along with airbag sensor data, revealed the SUV had pulled off Highway 1 into a turnout and had came to a stop. Sensor data indicates that the driver accelerated for 70 feet before the SUV plunged more than 100 feet down a cliff and into the ocean below.
Autopsies on the five bodies that were recovered are not yet complete, and there is no preliminary information from the coroner's office to indicate why the crash happened.
Investigators are also awaiting results of blood alcohol content tests that were performed on the two adults located in the vehicle. Those results will take four to six weeks.
The family of 8 routinely traveled together, and investigators don't have any information suggesting the three missing children weren't in the vehicle at the time of the crash. The search for 16 year-old Hannah, 12 year-old Sierra, and 15 year-old Devonte has been hampered by environmental factors, but many agencies are working around the clock to locate the missing children
Mendocino Sheriff's have expanded their search area, and believe ocean tides may have washed the remains of the three children to the south.
The SUV didn't leave tire friction marks on the roadway, and is believed to have driven straight off the edge of the cliff. There is no physical evidence suggesting this was an accident, but rather an intentional act.
Investigators are combing through cell phone records, along with recent bank transactions, and a computer that was recovered from the family's residence in southern Washington for any information that might help with the investigation.
Mendocino County Sheriff's say they're not sure why the family drove from Washington to the region, and there was no suicide note found at the scene of the crash or at the home of the family.
Mendocino County Sheriff's were aware of a prior contact that the mother had with CPS. The details of that interaction are related to the withholding of food from the children. Sheriff's say they aren't aware of any abuse or neglect to the children.
A press conference updating the investigation is scheduled for Monday, April 2.