SUV that fell in river belonged to missing family

Essayist Loren Benati

Before the family was known to be missing, authorities in Mendocino County received reports that a vehicle southbound on USA 101 went off the highway and tumbled into the Eel River.

A body that may be one of the remaining three missing children was recovered on April 7.

By the next morning, the Harts had left town.

This June, 2014, file photo shows some of the Hart family at the annual celebration of "The Goonies" movie in Astoria, Ore. The items were identified by family members as belonging to the Thottapilly family, officials said.

Jennifer and Sarah Hart, both 38, were found in their overturned SUV at the bottom of the cliff near the Pacific Coast Highway on March 26.

Police had previously said they believed the Hart family died in a suicide plunge from a scenic overlook.

Jennifer Hart had an alcohol level of 0.102, according to a news release from the Mendocino County Sheriff's Office, citing a preliminary toxicology report.

Water levels at the time the accident were too high and conditions too unsafe for a thorough search.

Toxicology tests also found that her wife Sarah Hart and two of their children had "a significant amount" of an ingredient commonly found in the allergy drug Benadryl, which can make people sleepy.

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No one in the vehicle, a GMC Yukon, was wearing a seatbelt, Captain Carpenter said on Friday.

Farther south along the Mendocino County coast, authorities continue to look for members of a family missing since an SUV made a deadly and possibly intentional plunge off a towering ocean bluff along State Route 1 last month.

The California Highway Patrol said that witnesses have told them they saw a SUV matching the description of the one owned by the Thottapilly family rolled through a highway pullout, slam into trees as it went down a 150-foot embankment and crash into the swift-moving waters of the Eel River.

The department tried to contact the family at their home the day that it received the complaint, March 23, but were unsuccessful.

On March 26, investigators recovered the bodies of the parents inside the vehicle and three children - Markis, 19; Jeremiah, 14; and Abigail, 14 - outside the auto.

Officials in Mendocino County said the body was found about 10:45 a.m.in the Eel River north of Leggett, about seven miles from the spot where the Thottapilly family's maroon Honda Pilot was reported to have fallen into the river on April 6.

OR officials would not discuss what child welfare workers learned when they went to check on Markis, Hannah, DeVonte, Jeremiah, Abigail and Sierra after Argyropoulos reported the parents.

A woman who reported Devonte Hart's parents to OR child welfare officials almost five years ago is now pushing for the creation of a national child abuse registry.

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