Pasadena MD Who Drove Family Over Cliff Faces Attempted Murder Charge

SAN MATEO COUNTY, CA — A Southern California man accused of intentionally driving his Tesla off a 250-foot cliff earlier this month with his wife and their two young children on board made his first court appearance Monday , just hours after prosecutors filed charges The 41-year-old radiologist from Pasadena is behind bars for life.

All four survived the Jan. 2 crash in a rescue that authorities described as a “miracle.” But Dharmesh A. Patel, his wife and 7-year-old daughter suffered serious injuries. His 4-year-old son was slightly injured.

Patel was arrested Jan. 3 but was not detained until Friday afternoon when he was released from Stanford Hospital, San Mateo District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe said.

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On Monday, prosecutors charged Patel with three counts of attempted murder, two of which included pleas for aggravated assault, Wagstaffe said.

The improvements to the aggravated assault of two victims means Patel faces seven years of life if convicted on both counts.

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The third attempted murder charge related to his 4-year-old son did not result in an increased charge because the child was not seriously injured, Wagstaffe said.

“We have concluded that the evidence supports the fact that he intentionally drove his vehicle over this cliff, apparently endangering not only his wife and two children but also his own life,” Wagstaffe said Monday before the San Mateo County Superior Court in Redwood City.

Patel was also charged with child molestation in connection with the Jan. 2 crash. He is being held without bail.

Wagstaffe said there was no deadline to charge Patel until “the clock began Friday afternoon when he was released from a hospital into the main San Mateo County jail.”

Prosecutors finally called four weeks after the crash to charge Patel.

“That’s why the decision was made this morning,” Wagstaffe said. “There was no new fact that changed the circumstances for us.

“It was just a matter of timing.”

Patel has Joshua Bentley, a prominent San Carlos defense attorney whose high-profile clients include ex-San Francisco 49ers defenseman Aldon Smith in a 2021 DUI case.

Bentley was involved in another high-profile case involving Tesla.

Bentley was representing Alexander Samek, a Los Altos planning commissioner who was arrested on suspicion of drunk driving after the CHP said he was seen asleep at the wheel of a Tesla with Autopilot that drove on a Bay Area freeway in 2018 at 70 miles traveled per hour.

Patel was in a holding cell behind a Plexiglas window during Monday’s trial. He could not be seen from the gallery conferring with Bentley.

Judge Jeffrey Finigan granted Bentley’s request for an extension until February 9.

Finigan also granted Assistant District Attorney Dominique Davis’ request that Patel continue to be held without bail. He refused Davis’ request for a no-contact order that would have prevented him from communicating with his family, and instead issued a harassment order.

The decision to charge Patel was based on a combination of witness statements, video evidence from the Tom Lantos tunnel and an incriminating statement his wife made to paramedics during the rescue, Wagstaffe said.

“We have video showing the movement of the car after it exited the tunnel and went up the hill, turned off the road, and then turned to go down the cliff,” Wagstaffe said.

A witness at the time of the accident told NBC Bay Area they saw the car go over the cliff.

“And I can see this car in my rearview mirror just going over the edge and straight down,” the witness told the TV station.

So far, the witnesses and video have provided the most compelling evidence against Patel Wagstaffe.

“We hope to learn more when the woman hopefully becomes available for an interview,” Wagstaffe said.

However, the extent to which she plans to cooperate with prosecutors remains open. She has retained her own attorney, Wagstaffe said.

“Her attorney said they would decline an interview until she was physically ready,” Wagstaffe said, noting that she “didn’t say no.”

Wagstaffe said the woman’s injuries are not preventing her from speaking to investigators.

“I’m confident that she wants to help all of us discover the truth about what happened,” he said.

Wagstaffe said his office was treating the case as a domestic violence incident. Davis, the assistant prosecutor assigned to the case, specializes in domestic violence, Wagstaffe said.

The Tesla sedan fell more than 250 feet off the freeway and crashed into a ledge. According to Brian Pottenger, a Coastside Fire Protection District/Cal Fire battalion commander, it appears to have tipped over a couple of times before landing on its wheels, wedged against the cliff just meters from the surf.

Crashes along Devil’s Slide, a steep, rocky, and winding stretch of coast about 15 miles (24.14 kilometers) south of San Francisco that lies between Pacifica and Montara, rarely end in survivors.

“We go there all the time to get cars over the cliff and they never live. It was an absolute miracle,” Pottenger said around the time of the crash.

News of Patel’s arrest and the circumstances of the crash have left neighbors stunned.

“They’re like ideal neighbors,” neighbor Sarah Walker told ABC 7.

“It seemed like they had a great holiday, they wanted to visit both parents. It just seemed very happy and awesome.”

Anyone with information regarding this case is asked to contact the CHP – San Francisco Area at (415) 557-1094.

– Bay City News and The Associated Press contributed to this report

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