A tragic family Tesla crash off a California cliff shocked rescuers. Then the doctor dad was arrested for attempted murder

Authorities say Pasadena radiologist Dharmesh Patel intentionally drove his Tesla off a notorious stretch of California highway known as Devil’s Slide, critically injuring his wife and two young children. Bevan Hurley reports

Friday 10 February 2023 17:30 GMT
Dharmesh Patel is facing attempted murder and child abuse charges after authorities say he deliberately drove his Tesla off a cliff in California
Dharmesh Patel is facing attempted murder and child abuse charges after authorities say he deliberately drove his Tesla off a cliff in California (via KABC)
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Rescuers were shocked to find that all four members of a family whose Tesla crashed off a 250-foot cliff in California had survived - branding it a “miracle”.

But the case took an even more astonishing turn soon after - with the father accused of deliberately causing the crash.

Dharmesh Patel, a 41-year-old doctor from Pasadena, has now been charged with attempted murder after his electric vehicle plunged from the Pacific Coast Highway in Northern California in an area known as Devil’s Slide on 2 January, the San Mateo District Attorney’s Office said.

Mr Patel, his wife Neha, and their nine-year-old son and four-year-old daughter “miraculously” survived the crash and were pulled off a craggy outcrop in a daring air rescue mission before being flown to hospital with critical injuries.

Mr Patel pleaded not guilty on 10 February.

What do we know about the crash?

Investigators say they were called to reports that a vehicle had driven off cliffs just south of the Tom Lantos tunnels known as the Devil’s Slide at 10.15am on 2 January.

Two adults and two children rescued after Tesla plunges 250ft off California cliff

The Devil’s Slide is a steep, rocky and winding coastal route around 15 miles (24 kms) south of San Francisco.

Emergency teams from the California Fire San Mateo-Santa Cruz Unit, the CHP, the US Coast Guard and the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office responded to the crash site, on a narrow outcrop of coastline at the bottom of a sheer cliff face.

The Tesla flipped several times before landing on its wheels and became wedged against the cliff a few metres from the raging ocean currents, according to Brian Pottenger, a battalion chief for Coastside Fire Protection District/Cal Fire.

Using an H-30 Helicopter, rescue specialists rappelled to the crash site several hours later where they found the four family members conscious and alert in the car.

The two children were suffering from muscoskeletel injuries, and were pulled out of the back window and rapelled back to the chopper with a winch.

The husband and wife had more serious traumatic injuries, and had to be hoisted up to the chopper.

The four family members were then transferred by Stanford Life Flight Helicopter where their condition was listed as critical.

“We go there all the time for cars over the cliff and they never live. This was an absolute miracle,” Mr Pottenger said in a video statement posted to Twitter.

Dramatic footage of the rescue operation was shared on the CHP’s Golden Gate Air Division’s Facebook page.

An initial investigation from California Highway Patrol found that the vehicle was not operating in Autopilot or Full Self-Driving mode at the time of the crash, according to the Associated Press.

The CHP later said there has been “no determination as to what driving mode the Tesla was in”.

The Tesla vehicle that authorities say Dharmesh Patel intentionally drove off a California cliff
The Tesla vehicle that authorities say Dharmesh Patel intentionally drove off a California cliff (Bay Area Firefighters / Facebook)

Weather was not believed to be a factor in the crash, and there was no guardrail at the spot where the vehicle left the road, according to investigators.

The make of the Tesla has not been officially been released, but a Tesla owner’s website identified it as a Model Y sedan.

The charges

Officers from the CHP’s San Francisco bureau examined the crash site and interviewed witnesses “through the night” of the crash.

“Based on the evidence collected, investigators developed probable cause to believe this incident was an intentional act,” the bureau said in a statement on 3 January.

The family were pulled from a craggy outcrop in a daring air rescue mission
The family were pulled from a craggy outcrop in a daring air rescue mission (CHP)

On 27 January, it was announced that Mr Patel had been released from hospital and jailed on suspicion of attempted murder and child abuse.

He was charged Monday with three counts of attempted murder, according to the San Mateo County District Attorney’s Office.

San Mateo District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe told the San Francisco Chronicle that a statement from Mr Patel’s wife to paramedics as she was being airlifted from the crash site had given them probable cause that the crash was deliberate.

Mr Wagstaffe told the news site that witness statements from other motorists and cameras from a nearby tunnels had given his office enough evidence to lay the charges.

Mr Patel suffered severe lower body injuries in the crash, and had declined all requests to speak to investigators, Mr Wagstaffe told The Chronicle.

He added that the Tesla was not in self-driving mode at the time of the crash, and the California Highway Patrol had found no signs that the vehicle had malfunctioned.

Mr Patel pleaded not guilty to the charges against him on 10 February.

Who is Dharmesh Patel?

Mr Patel is listed as a radiologist at Providence Holy Cross Medical Center in Mission Hills, Pasadena.

Dharmesh Patel is facing attempted murder and child abuse charges after authorities say he deliberately drove his Tesla off a cliff in California
Dharmesh Patel is facing attempted murder and child abuse charges after authorities say he deliberately drove his Tesla off a cliff in California (via KABC)

In a statement to ABC7, Providence Holy Cross Medical Center said it was “deeply saddened to learn of a traffic incident involving one of our physicians and his family”.

“We are extremely grateful there were no serious injuries. We will not respond further, as this incident is under investigation.”

According to an online profile, Mr Patel graduated from the Wayne State University School of Medicine in Michigan and has been practicing medicine for more than a decade.

Dharmesh Patel is a radiologist in Pasadena
Dharmesh Patel is a radiologist in Pasadena (via KABC)

Residents on the family’s Mission Hills street told ABC7 described the family as “ideal neighbours” and said they were stunned to hear about the charges.

One said the family had been on holiday visiting their parents when the crash occurred.

‘Good news’ from Elon Musk

Monday’s crash led to speculation that the vehicle’s self-driving mode may have caused the crash.

The Drive Tesla CA Twitter account stated that the two children were “unharmed” in the crash, adding: “If you want to keep your family safe, buy a Tesla.”

Elon Musk replied: “Good news”.

While there is no indication that the vehicle was in self-driving mode, official figures released by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration last June showed that Teslas accounted for nearly 70 per cent of reported crashes involving advanced driver-assist systems in the previous 12 months.

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