SUV that into river belonged to missing family, officials determine

Recovered vehicle debris and personal items confirm that an SUV seen plunging into a storm-swollen Northern California river belonged to a family that disappeared last week in the same county as the Hart family, authorities said Thursday.

The vehicle itself and the four members of the Thottapilly family have not been recovered from the Eel River, which remains too dangerous for divers to enter, but searchers along the banks located numerous items consistent with a Honda vehicle and interior, and items consistent with a family traveling on vacation, the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement.

“Several items have been positively identified, by family members, as belonging to the Thottapilly family,” it said. “These items were of a personal nature and will not be described further at this time, but it does confirm the fact the vehicle that was seen going into the river was that of the Thottapilly family.”

The family members were identified as Sandeep Thottapilly, 41; Soumya Thottapilly, 38; Siddhant Thottapilly, 12; and Saachi Thottapilly, 9.

Just weeks after the Hart family perished in a fatal plunge from an ocean overlook along the Pacific Coast Highway in Northern California, rescuers were searching for another family feared to have driven into water in the same county.

Authorities said that a vehicle, which witnesses identified as possibly a Honda Pilot SUV, vanished after falling into the rain-swollen Eel River in Mendocino County around 1 p.m. Friday.

That’s the same area where a family of four that vanished during a road trip from Portland, Ore., to their home in Santa Clarita, Calif., is last known to have been, the San Jose Police Department told the Associated Press. The family was traveling as a strong storm dumped rain on Northern California.

Police identified their vehicle as a maroon or burgundy 2016 Honda Pilot with license plates 7MMX138.

Mendocino County sheriff’s Lt. Shannon Barney told the Press-Democrat of Santa Rosa that officials will launch a search of the south fork of the Eel River once water levels drop and the flow slows.

The lost vehicle was reportedly southbound on Highway 101, pulled into a turnout and went over the side and into the river.

A “missing” poster shared by friends and family on Facebook identified the Thottapilly family members as 42-year-old Sandeep, 38-year-old Soumya, 12-year-old Siddhanty and 9-year-old Saachi.

The poster said their last known location was the “Klamath-Redwood National Park area.”

The Klamath River and a string of state and federal redwood parks lie along Highway 101 to the north of where the vehicle was seeing falling into the Eel River. A powerful storm late last week dropped 2 to 5 inches of rain in the region.

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

Sarah and Jennifer Hart and their six adopted children were believed to be in the SUV at the time. Five bodies were found March 26 near Mendocino, a few days after Washington state authorities began investigating the Harts for possible child neglect, but three of their children were not immediately recovered from the scene along the shoreline.

A body was pulled out of the surf Saturday but was not immediately identified.

Fox News’ Edmund DeMarche, Gregg Re and The Associated Press contreibuted to this report


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