Doctor who 'intentionally drove family off cliff' pleads not guilty

Tesla driver who ‘intentionally drove himself, wife and kids off Devil’s Slide cliff in murder-suicide bid’ pleads NOT guilty as he appears in California court via video link

  • Dharmesh Patel, 42, pleaded not guilty to charges he tried to kill his wife and two young children when he drove off California’s Devil’s Slide cliff
  • Patel has been charged with three counts of attempted murder, with enhancements of using great bodily harm as well as domestic violence
  • His lawyer said a ‘witness’ in the case did not want him to be prosecuted

The California doctor who is accused of intentionally driving his wife and children off a 250-foot cliff has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

Dharmesh Patel, 42, denied charges that he tried to kill his wife and two young children when he drove his Tesla off California’s Devil’s Slide cliff on January 2. Miraculously, all four survived the devastating crash.

Patel has been charged with three counts of attempted murder, with enhancements of using great bodily harm as well as domestic violence. If convicted, he could face life in prison.

But in court on Thursday, his lawyer said a ‘witness’ in the case did not want him prosecuted for his alleged actions, a reporter for NBC Bay Area tweeted from the scene.

Still, a judge in San Mateo Court ruled that Patel can only have limited contact with his family, especially his wife, as he remains in custody without bail.

Dharmesh Patel, right, is accused of intentionally trying to kill his wife and two young children when he drove off Devil’s Slide cliff on January 2 

Prosecutors say they have video from the Lantos Tunnel showing how he veered off the road

Prosecutors are expected to use traffic camera video from Lantos Tunnel as evidence that Patel, who works as a radiologist at Providence Holy Cross Medical Center in Pasadena, intentionally steered his Tesla Model Y off the cliff.

‘There are cameras,’ San Mateo County District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe said. ‘So we have video showing the movement of the car.’

That video, he said, ‘clearly shows his car coming out of the tunnel, going up the hill, making a right turn off the road into a dirt area at the top. And then a sharp right turn down and over the edge and down the cliff.’ 

State attorneys will also likely bring up witness statements, as two people who were allegedly driving behind Patel on January 2 ‘who watched what occurred and were able to provide information about lack of brake lights,’ Wagstaffe told People.

Additionally, Patel’s wife, Neha, allegedly told paramedics ‘he intentionally tried to kill us’ after they rappelled down the steep cliff to rescue the family.

‘She said very simply this was not an accident. We do believe the evidence establishes the necessary intent to kill,’ Wagstaffe previously told the San Francisco Chronicle. 

But Neha has not spoken to investigators since that initial interview. 

Patel was arrested after California Highway Patrol investigators ‘developed probable cause to believe this incident was an intentional act,’ the agency said. 

He was then booked into San Mateo County’s Maguire Correctional Facility in late January.

Patel is pictured in a mugshot after he was booked in the San Mateo County’s Maguire Correctional Facility late last month

The wreckage of the Tesla is pictured at the bottom of the cliff 

The car was traveling northbound on Highway 1 near San Francisco at around 10am on Monday, January 2 when it plummeted off the side of the Devil’s Side cliff

Patel’s Tesla is now being examined by the California Highway Patrol’s Major Accident Investigation Team ‘to see did the brakes go out? Do we have flat tires? Whatever they could determine from the vehicle,’ Wagstaffe said.

‘But there was nothing immediately that would indicate any type of vehicle disability or problem,’ he added. ‘I am convinced that, on the evidence we have at this point, that it was an intentional act.

‘Now again, multiple things could occur, and this happens in criminal cases where the family comes forward and they give us a description of some things that put a different light on it. Or the wife comes forward and says, “Let me tell you wat occurred and to explain it.”

‘Or the CHP MAIT team comes back and says, “Look it, there was a mechanical difficulty with the vehicle,’ Wagstaffe continued. ‘So the facts, the whole story is not out yet.

‘It’s just the story we have right now, it certainly appears this was an intentional act to us and that’s why we filed the charges.

‘But we’ll learn, we’ll find out hopefully more as time goes on.’ 

Patel’s wife, Neha, had previously told investigators, ‘he tried to kill us’

Sheriff’s deputies work to free the car after the family was airlifted to safety  on January 2

The huge drop from the highway to the scene of the crash. The family members were airlifted to safety 

Troopers were dispatched at around 10am on January 2 to reports that a vehicle had veered off the cliff on Highway 1, around 20 miles south of San Francisco. The steep, rocky, winding coastal area is known as Devil’s Slide.

Fire Chief Brian Pottenger told reporters: ‘We go there all the time for cars over the cliff and they never live. This was an absolute miracle.’

The car was initially said to have flipped multiple times. However, experts have since raised doubts, arguing the heavy batteries located in the floor of the Tesla would have stopped it from rolling.

There was no guardrail at the spot where the sedan went off the cliff, officials said.

Patel was seen driving at speed northbound on Highway 1 and he is speculated to have performed a sharp turn before reaching the Tom Lantos Tunnel, which is where the Tesla veered off the road, first onto a dirt area and then down the cliff.

Robin Johnson, who called 911 after seeing the crash, recalled: ‘Wow, he’s driving extremely fast to take that exit. You’re not even supposed to be going up that way.

‘And I can see in my rear-view mirror this car just go over the edge and straight down.’

 

Rescue teams had to abseil down the side of the cliff while others used helicopters to try to reach the family 

About 30 to 50 rescuers arrived at the scene, where it was initially assumed that anyone in the car must have been dead.

A helicopter and specialist teams were required to rappel down the cliff to the car. It was not until hours later that rescue teams discovered the four family members conscious and alert in the car.

The children were pulled out first, through a back window, and hauled up the cliff by hand in a rescue basket using a pulley.

The doctor and his wife were more seriously injured and had to be hoisted out by helicopter and were then flown directly to the hospital.

Neighbors expressed their shock after learning the allegations against Patel, describing their family as ‘idyllic’.

Roger Newmark, who lives several doors down from the family on a leafy Pasadena street, told CBS: ‘They’re the sweetest couple and they have the greatest two little kids.’

The hospital where Patel works as a radiologist also released a statement after the crash.

‘Providence Holy Cross Medical Center is deeply saddened to learn of a traffic incident involving one of our physicians and his family,’ it said.

‘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, Patel graduated from the Wayne State University School of Medicine in Michigan and has been practicing for more than a decade.

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