LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The woman behind the wheel of an SUV that careened off a coastal roadside cliff in Northern California last month, killing her and seven family members, was driving drunk at the time, police said on Friday.
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.
The family’s demise in late March came just days after child welfare authorities in their home state of Washington opened an inquiry into allegations that the children were being abused or neglected, according to police and social services agencies.
The remains of Jennifer and Sarah Margaret Hart, both 38, and three of the children were found in the wreckage of a GMC Yukon after it ran off California Highway 1 and plunged over a steep embankment onto the rocky shoreline below.
The crash scene, about 200 miles (322 km) north of San Francisco, was discovered by a passing motorist on March 26.
The three other children, who were believed to have also been in the SUV when it went over the cliff, remained missing but were presumed killed, police have said.
The remains of a girl believed to be among them was found washed up on the banks of an adjacent creek days later, but California Highway Patrol Sergeant Robert Powers said she has not yet been positively identified.
One of the two still missing was 15-year-old Devonte Hart, an African-American youth who gained attention in 2014 after being photographed embracing a white police officer during a protest following the fatal police shooting of a young black teenager in Ferguson, Missouri.
Mendocino County Sheriff Tom Allman has said he considers the crash probe a criminal investigation.
He noted that the Yukon had traveled some 75 feet along an unpaved roadside pullout before running off the cliff, leaving behind no skid or brake marks, indicating the vehicle may have been driven off the cliff intentionally.
Lab results on the driver’s body found she had a blood-alcohol concentration above the state’s legal limit of 0.08 percent, Powers said. But he declined to say precisely how high it was.
He said examiners also found traces of an over-the-counter antihistamine that can cause drowsiness in the systems of the wife and two children.
Police have said a search of the family’s home in Woodland, Washington, turned up no suicide note.
Reporting by Steve Gorman; Editing by Cynthia Osterman