California prosecutors charged Dharmesh Patel, a 41-year-old radiologist from Southern California, with three counts of attempted murder for driving a Tesla with his family inside off a 250-foot cliff earlier this month.
On Monday, San Mateo County district attorney Steve Wagstaffe said his office charged Patel with attempted murder after reviewing statements from his wife, who was in the car and remains in the hospital, people driving behind Patel, and videos from the tunnel near the incident on Jan. 2. The charges included special allegations of domestic violence and causing great bodily harm, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.
“We do believe the evidence establishes the necessary intent to kill,” Wagstaffe said. Wagstaffe quoted Patel’s wife Neha in a press conference: “‘He intentionally tried to kill us.’”
Patel appeared before San Mateo County Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Finigan on Monday afternoon for arraignment and was denied bail due to the “potential danger to family members,” according to the Chronicle. Finigan also ordered Patel not to harass his family. The radiologist sustained “serious lower body injuries” as a result of the incident and was taken to the San Mateo County Jail.
Although there were initial questions over whether the Tesla’s self-driving mode was activated, given the company’s dangerous track record of accidents involving its autopilot features, the California Highway Patrol said earlier this month that the car didn’t appear to be the culprit. Wagstaffe, the district attorney, on Monday said the Tesla had not been in a self-driving mode during the crash and that investigators had so far found no problems with the car.
Witnesses told investigators the brake lights on Patel’s Tesla weren’t on when the car suddenly made a hard right and dove off the 250-foot cliff known as Devil’s Slide. The Tesla landed upright on its wheels and all four members of the family were rescued. Nonetheless, the couple’s 7-year-old daughter maintained serious injuries. Their 4-year-old son, meanwhile, walked away from the crash with only bruises.
Experts were stunned the family survived, telling the New York Times that it was “very unusual for anyone to survive an accident of this magnitude in this area.”
Why exactly Patel decided to drive the Tesla off the cliff is still an open question. Wagstaffe said his office was still investigating.
“We’re looking into what led up to this. Was there depression or anything else?”Wagstaffe said, per the Chronicle. “It wasn’t just that he was trying to kill them, he was trying to kill himself too.”