Eight members of the Hart family shown in the above photo were reported killed when their vehicle travelled off the Pacific Coast Highway near Westport California.

We should come to  accept that speculation will always exist, in one form or another, in the thoughts of many persons when objective facts about a tragedy are not available. This is the case when a SUV was reportedly “discovered” at the bottom of a 30 metre cliff of the Pacific West Coast highway just north of Westport, California on Monday, March 26, 2018. The news reports would suggest that 5 members of the eight-member Hart family were found with the vehicle while police were still looking for the remains of the other three.

Reports indicate that the Hart family was uncommon. Led by two, 39-year-old women who adopted six children. Some described them in glowing terms while others did not. The news media report that a children’s agency was in the process of investigating the possible mistreatment of the children when the collision occurred. The obvious speculation is that the collision was caused on purpose as some kind of mass suicide. Yet, up to this point, police have reported nothing unusual which would suggest a purposeful act. Regardless, the damage has been done.

Matters like these are not uncommon, not just in collisions but in all walks of life. If not for the bazaar behaviour of an American president we would not have been exposed to the term “fake news” nor would we have begun to think about its meaning. We are truly a unique species in that we can create our own reality and make ourselves believe things that have no rational basis. While many of us profess to be non-religious, we follow a religious-like belief system that is made up of certain superior beings with titles and robes and pagentry in whom we have total faith. Whether these be news representatives whom we have come to trust, police who can always be trusted, or doctors or priests and so on. All with titles and positions whom we have come to believe and trust not because of the facts they tell us, but solely because of who they are. That is not a wise or healthy approach.

In the analysis of motor vehicle collisions we are constantly provided with the observations of witnesses. Some are very reliable and truthful, and some are not. The problem is that, without proper confirmation by objective analysis, we have no idea which witness is reporting reliable information and which is giving us a fairy tale, or whether the truth lies somewhere in-between. It is the meticulous process of identifying and gathering objective evidence that gives us the opportunity to be “quite sure” that the witness information is reliable.

Unfortunately, those gatherers and identifiers of objective evidence are not of equal capability, training and experience and here lies a second quagmire. There are many who like to be looked upon as capable, well-trained and experienced and who gather many credentials, much like the titles, robes and pagentry noted above, so that this smoke and mirrors will prevent a properly detailed study of what they have gathered and identified. Unfortunately, our experience is such that we cannot accept what previous investigators or analysts have reported on face value simply because of the many times that those investigators and analysts have provided unreliable information. In 37 years of analysis and through the review of the actions of a large number of witnesses, investigators and analysts, we have come to this conclusion not because of our bias but because our experience demonstrates this.

Going back to the incident of the Hart family’s tragedy, all we have of (seemingly) objective information is that the family perished due to their vehicle’s fall from the highway cliff. We cannot be certain of even this one item since any kind of purposeful action by others could make this tragedy seem like an accident when it was not. So a close study of the evidence such as the injuries sustained by each occupant would be needed along with evidence inside the vehicle. Obviously a downloading of data from the vehicle’s event  data recorder (“black box”) might provide useful information If it is interpreted properly.

The matter of the reported lack of tire marks must also be viewed with caution as many investigators simply do not have enough experience in using proper procedures or understanding what it is they should be looking for because they simply lack the experience. Identification and recognition of such evidence does not become a reliable skill just over a matter of a couple of years or through the study of a few short courses. At Gorski Consulting we continue to compile photographic documentation of various tire marks so that we can become better identifiers and interpreters of that evidence.This is no different than any other evidence that is cataloged so that it can be used to uncover the truth in future cases.

What is obvious at the collision site is that the Pacific Coast Highway in this region is accompanied by many cliffs and the border between the cliffs and roadway are not protected by guardrails or other devices that would limit the opportunity for vehicles to accidentally wander into danger. That may not mean anything in the details of this specific  case however any investigator might keep that in the back of their mind while not causing one to develop tunnel vision.

In all, the presence of speculation in this incident is not uncommon. While many attack those who engage in it, our view is that speculation develops when there has been insufficient objective information disclosed about an event. Those who formulate those attacks often fail to ask why more objective information is not revealed as, in so many previous incidents, the insistence on maintaining secrecy is the ultimate problem.