DA casts on case of California doctor accused of murdering wife and kids by driving Tesla off cliff
Prosecutors have cast doubt on the case of a California doctor accused of trying to kill his wife and two children by driving his Tesla off a 250ft cliff – with investigators now probing if the car’s brakes failed.
Dharmesh Patel, 41, was initially arrested on suspicion of attempting to murder his wife Neha, 41, their four-year-old son and seven-year-old daughter after veering off the highway at Devil’s Slide in California on January 2.
But District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe is now exploring the possibility the family’s Tesla Model Y may have experienced mechanical problems that led to the crash.
‘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?’ Wagstaffe told the LA Times. ‘We’re having the car looked at from top to bottom.’
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Dharmesh A. Patel, 41, was initially arrested on suspicion of attempting to murder his wife Neha, 41, and their four-year-old son and seven-year-old daughter after allegedly making a U-turn at Devil’s Slide in California on January 2
Miraculously the family of four survived the plunge to the water’s edge without sustaining life-threatening injuries. The mangled Tesla Model Y is pictured after the smash
The rescue effort at dusk on Monday January 2 after emergency teams realized the family was alive
The DA’s office was still in the early stages of the investigation, he added.
Miraculously the family of four survived the plunge to the water’s edge without sustaining life-threatening injuries.
However, the celebration of their rescue was short-lived when Patel was arrested at Stanford Hospital later that day.
Police said Patel was to be charged with attempted homicide and child abuse, with authorities alleging a botched murder-suicide.
The radiologist has since been transferred to San Mateo Medical Center, Wagstaffe said. He has not yet been formally booked as he is still receiving treatment.
It is unclear whether his wife and children are still receiving treatment in the hospital, or if they have been discharged.
Initially there were questions over whether the electric vehicle – famous for its self-driving technology – went rogue and took the family off the road by mistake.
But experts have since said that the car, which has airbags adjacent to the two front seats in addition to in front of them, may have actually saved their lives.
Troops were dispatched around 10am Monday, January 2, to reports that a vehicle had veered off the cliff on Highway 1, about 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 it appears he must 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 went over the edge and straight down.’
The car was traveling northbound on Highway 1 near San Francisco at around 10am on Monday, January 2.
Sheriff’s deputies work to free the car after the family was airlifted to safety
The huge drop from the highway to the scene of the crash. The family members were airlifted to safety
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 immediately responded to the scene where it was initially presumed the occupants of the car must have been dead.
A helicopter and specialist teams were required to rappel down to the wreckage and it was not until hours later that stunned 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 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 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.
Witnesses said they saw the vehicle driving at high speed along the highway before it veered off course.
The Tesla Model Y – which is the vehicle the family was in – has multiple airbags. There are front airbags, seat-mounted side airbags, and curtain airbags, all of which appeared to inflate. Police are yet to confirm whether this saved the family
Among those to comment on the matter was Tesla founder Elon Musk.
In response to a tweet about how the family survived, Musk said: ‘Good news.’
Experts said the fact the family survived proves the Tesla vehicles’ safety.
Mechanical engineering professor Jingwen Yu said Patel ‘probably underestimated how safe a vehicle could be’.
Speaking to NBC earlier this month he described the family’s survival as a ‘miracle’, but noted the quality of the Tesla’s seatbelts and hard roof on top of the fact the car’s batteries give it a low center of gravity to stop it from flipping.
Jose Granada, a professor of mechanical engineering at California State University Sacramento, said the car could not have flipped or it would have been crushed.
Earlier, Fire Chief Pottenger had told the media that he believed the car ‘flipped several times.’
Rather, Granada said that the car made a straight drop, landing on pebbles and sand.
He compared it to landing in a ball pit at Chuck E. Cheese, even though the fall at top speed would have been around 80 mph.