A Pierce County man called 911 after one of the Harts’ children showed up at his daughter’s door in Woodland “begging” for help.

Share story

Months before Child Protective Services paid unsuccessful visits to the Woodland family whose car plunged over a California cliff last month, a caller reported abuse concerns to a 911 dispatcher, according to dispatch records and 911 audio.

“The other night, a little girl jumped out of the second-story window on the roof and then down onto the ground and ran to my daughter — and this was like two in the morning — begging them to help her,” the caller, Steve Frkovich, 80, told the Clark County dispatcher in the Nov. 18 call. He told the dispatcher there were kids who he felt were “being highly abused.”

The dispatcher relayed the call to the Clark County Sheriff’s Office. But after contacting Frkovich’s daughter, Dana DeKalb, who told them the incident had actually occurred in August and there had been no repeat occurrences, the Sheriff’s Office decided against performing a welfare check on the home of Sarah and Jennifer Hart and their six adopted children, according to the dispatch logs and audio obtained through a public-records request.

The late-night incident of the Hart girl running to the DeKalb home has by now been widely reported. But the details of the 911 call, which have not been previously reported, provide another instance in which authorities across at least three states received warnings that something might be wrong in the Hart household.

Most Read Local Stories

Unlimited Digital Access. $1 for 4 weeks.

DeKalb, who lived next door to the Hart family in Woodland, later reported concerns that brought a CPS official to the Harts’ home on March 23, but no one answered the door.

The Harts apparently left Woodland shortly after, and three days later the family SUV was found at the bottom of a 150-foot cliff roof down on the oceanside rocks in Mendocino County, California. The two mothers were found dead after the wreck, along with three of their teenage children. Three more children are considered missing, though a black female’s body was found Saturday floating in the surf near the crash site. Authorities said it could take several weeks to determine if it was one of the Hart children.

Officials are investigating whether the crash was intentional. Software in the vehicle showed it stopped at a pull-off area before speeding off the cliff, according to authorities, and there were no skid marks to indicate sudden acceleration or braking.

The Hart parents had faced previous abuse allegations in Minnesota and Oregon before moving to Washington, leaving some wondering if authorities missed signs that the children were in danger.

Frkovich, who lives in Pierce County, told the dispatcher in the November call that he had learned of the alleged abuse from his daughter, who had recently visited. He told the dispatcher the incident had happened three or four nights prior.

“My son-in-law doesn’t want to get involved, but the more I sit on it, I just can’t live with it. Somebody’s got to go there and check on these kids,” Frkovich said. “Since she’s told me about it, I just can’t live with it … those kids, I think, are in very serious danger.”

According to dispatch logs, a Clark County Sheriff’s Office deputy apparently contacted Dana DeKalb for more information and learned the incident had taken place several months before Frkovich had conveyed information to the dispatcher.

Deputies chose not to perform a welfare check, writing in a dispatch log:

“This incident happened two months ago. Dana recently told mom about the situation who in turn told her elderly father who felt it necessary to call police from his residence in Tacoma. Dana said no other issues since this one. Determined a welfare check was not warranted based on this isolated incident.”

Frkovich’s recounting to the dispatcher was otherwise similar to Dana DeKalb’s story of the alleged abuse.

In an interview last week, Dana DeKalb told The Seattle Times a young girl rang her doorbell at 1:30 a.m. on a night last August.

Her husband, Bruce DeKalb, opened the door, and a girl ran inside.

“She was pleading with us, ‘Don’t make me go back. They’re mean, they’re abusing us,’ ” Bruce DeKalb said.

The DeKalbs did not see obvious signs of abuse that night and did not report Sarah and Jen Hart to authorities until the following March, when another child came from the Hart family’s home claiming his mothers were depriving the children of food.

Frkovich declined to comment to The Seattle Times Monday. “I really don’t have a whole lot to say that’s not already been said,” he said.

Sgt. Brent Waddell, a spokesman for the Clark County Sheriff’s Office, said he did not have information about how deputies decided not to perform a welfare check on that specific call. He said he would follow up with the patrol deputy listed on the dispatch log and try to learn more. He said deputies handle hundreds of calls like this each year.

Calls are handled “on a case-by-case basis,” Waddell said, and there is not a checklist for sending a welfare check.

Waddell said that when the 911 call came in last November, the Clark County Sheriff’s Office had not had previous reports of problems at the Harts’ home. He also said it had been two months since the abuse was alleged and the person who contacted authorities did not have firsthand knowledge of the events.

“Hindsight is hindsight,” he said.