MENDOCINO COUNTY, CA -- Devonte Hart, a 15-year-old whose body has never been found, was inside his family's SUV and killed with his siblings and parents when their vehicle crashed off a Northern California cliff last year, Mendocino County Sheriff Tom Allman says.
The agency had previously said the teen was still missing, but presumed to be dead as a result of the March 2018 crash.
The new development was revealed in a video shown at the start of a coroner's inquest regarding the Hart family's deadly crash that began this morning, but evidence supporting the statement was not included by Allman.
The inquest, which is being live streamed on the Mendocino Sheriff's YouTube page, is similar to a court trial. It has a full panel of 14 jurors who are listening to witness testimony and reviewing evidence from the investigation.
On Wednesday morning, jurors heard testimony from multiple California Highway Patrol officers who responded to the crash scene. One of them, Ofc. Covington, testified it was "definitely out of the ordinary" to that no evidence explaining the cause of the crash was discovered.
In addition to the officers, jurors also listened to the leader of a group of volunteers that searched miles of beaches that surrounded the crash in the days after it happened.
Dr. Greg Pizarro, a pathologist who performed autopsies on Harts, offered details about his findings to the jury as well. Among those key findings included that Jennifer Hart, who investigators have said was driving the family's SUV when it crashed off the cliff, had a BAC of .102% and was not wearing her seat belt.
Pizarro also said his review of Sarah Hart, who investigators said was in the passenger seat during the crash, found she had a high level of Benadryl in her system at the time of her death. But, Pizarro explained, it was unlikely the antihistamine is what killed her.
More testimony was expected Wednesday afternoon on the autopsy reports for five of six of the Hart's adopted children -- Markis, Hannah, Jeremiah, Abigail and Ciera -- whose remains have been recovered, although some only partially. The children ranged in ages from 12 to 19 at the time of their deaths.
The remains of Markis, Jeremiah and Abigail were discovered at the crash site, along with those of Jenniefer and Sarah Hart. Ciera's body did not wash up to the shoreline for nearly two weeks after the crash. A foot, later confirmed to belong to Hannah Hart, was found about a month later tangled in a pair of jeans and confirmed through DNA testing. Investigators later said that at least two of the children were found to have been drugged at the time of the deadly crash.
During the inquest, which is scheduled to last through Friday, jurors will also receive testimony on the timeline of the Harts movements from their home in Woodland, Washington to the area near Westport, California, where the crash ultimately occurred. The jury is also expected to review physical evidence from the crash scene.
The testimony and evidence will conclude with the jury's one task: determining how each other eight Hart family members died. Hearing officer Matthew Guichard said prior to the start of Wednesday's testimony that under California law, they will have four choices: natural causes, accident, suicide and death at the hands of another - other than by accident.
Guichard also clarified jurors will not have to consider the cause of the crash, including whether it was intentional, as investigators have previously said they believe.
"You will not be asked, nor is it relevant for this type of hearing, to determine civil or criminal responsibility on the part of anyone - not the decedents, not anyone," Guichard explained to the jury.
It is unclear, at this point, how the jury will determine Devonte Hart's death since his body was never found and, therefore, an autopsy was never conducted.
And, of note, while the Mendocino County Sheriff's Office has concluded Devonte was inside the SUV, outside groups have not. Lauth Investigations, a private investigative firm based out of Indiana, says a search to find him remains active.
FOX 12 will have more on Wednesday's testimony starting on the 5 O'Clock News.
Copyright 2019 KPTV-KPDX Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved.