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Dad Accused of Driving Tesla Off 300-Foot Cliff with Family Inside Charged with Attempted First-Degree Murder

The site where Dharmesh Patel allegedly drove his family off of a cliff (via California Highway Patrol)

The site where Dharmesh Patel allegedly drove his family off of a cliff (via California Highway Patrol)

Authorities in California have jailed the 41-year-old father who is accused of “intentionally” driving his Tesla off of a cliff with his wife and two young children inside, sending the vehicle plummeting nearly 300 feet before it crashed at the base of a bluff along the Pacific Coast Highway. Dharmesh A. Patel, who miraculously survived the wreck along with his family earlier this month, was released from Stanford Hospital last week and taken into custody on suspicion of attempted first-degree murder and child abuse, according to jail records reviewed by Law&Crime.

While it remained unclear Monday morning whether prosecutors with the San Mateo County District Attorney’s Office would decide to charge Patel, a spokesperson with DA’s office confirmed to Law&Crime that the charges would be filed prior to his arraignment, which is currently scheduled to take place on Monday at 1:30 p.m. PST.

Dharmesh A. Patel inmate information

Immediately following the crash, the San Francisco Office of California Highway Patrol (CHP) explained that “no determination” had been made as to what “driving mode” Patel’s Tesla was in, but noted that the car’s driving mode did “not appear to be a contributing factor in the incident.” The agency said that it collected evidence and “developed probable cause” indicating that the crash “was an intentional act.”

However, the District Attorney just last week told the Los Angeles Times that investigators were still looking into whether the vehicle may have contributed to the incident

“Did the brakes fail? Were the brakes working? Were there any other mechanical malfunctions that would have led to him not being able to stop the vehicle?” District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe said in an interview with the newspaper. “We’re having the car looked at from top to bottom.”

As previously reported by Law&Crime, CHP officers responded to a call about a vehicle going over the side of a cliff on State Route 1 at approximately 10:50 a.m. on Monday, Jan. 2. The area, known as “Devil’s Slide,” is notorious for fatal car crashes.

Upon arriving at the scene, CHP officers and additional emergency rescue personnel located a white Tesla sedan “approximately 250 to 300 feet down the cliff,” the release states. Emergency personnel repelled down the face of the cliff to the vehicle on ropes and made contact with the vehicle’s four occupants, finding two adults and two children.

Firefighters brought the two children, ages seven and four, back up to the road safely on the ropes while the two adults were extricated and saved by an El Cerrito Fire Helicopter Rescue Technician who was lowered to the scene of the crash, according to a press release from CHP Golden Gate Division Air Operations. The dramatic rescue was caught on film, showing each of the adults being lifted from the base of the cliff on stretchers.

CHP investigators say they worked throughout the evening “interviewing witnesses and gathering evidence from the scene” before concluding that Patel purposefully steered the Tesla off the ravine.

Brian Pottenger, the battalion chief of the Coastside Fire Protection District’s San Mateo-Santa Cruz unit, reportedly said in an email to The New York Times that the vehicle appeared to have flipped several times before landing right-side up, drastically increasing the odds for the passengers’ survival and successful rescue.

“It is very unusual for anyone to survive an accident of this magnitude in this area,” Chief Pottenger reportedly told the Times. “We go there all the time for cars over the cliff and they never live. This was an absolute miracle,” he added.

Los Angeles ABC affiliate KABC reported that Patel is a doctor at Providence Holy Cross Medical Center in Mission Hills.

It was not immediately clear whether Patel had retained an attorney to comment on his behalf.

Watch footage of the daring rescue below.

(image via CHP)

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Jerry Lambe is a journalist at Law&Crime. He is a graduate of Georgetown University and New York Law School and previously worked in financial securities compliance and Civil Rights employment law.