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Man who allegedly intentionally drove Tesla off cliff with family inside faces attempted murder charges

Witthaya Prasongsin/Getty Images

(NEW YORK) — A California man who prosecutors say intentionally drove his Tesla off a cliff with his family inside is facing attempted murder charges.


Dharmesh Arvind Patel, 41, of Pasadena, was arraigned on three felony counts of attempted murder at the San Mateo County Superior Court in Redwood City on Monday afternoon. He did not enter a plea and was ordered to remain held without bail in the San Mateo County Jail in Redwood City.

Patel’s attorney, Josh Bentley, did not immediately respond to ABC News’ request for comment.

Patel is accused of intentionally trying to kill his wife and two young children by driving their car off a cliff on California’s scenic Highway 1, just south of the Tom Lantos tunnels, on the morning of Jan. 2. The California Highway Patrol said its officers were dispatched to the scene about 15 miles south of San Francisco at approximately 10:50 a.m. local time and, upon arrival, located a white Tesla some 300 feet down the cliff.

First responders repelled down the cliff to rescue the occupants from the vehicle — two adults and two children. All four were then transported to a local hospital with “serious injuries,” according to the California Highway Patrol.

After interviewing witnesses and gathering evidence from the scene, investigators developed probable cause to believe the incident was an intentional act and placed the driver — identified as Patel — under arrest for attempted murder and child abuse. Investigators were unable to determine what driving mode the Tesla was in at the time, but “that does not appear to be a contributing factor in this incident,” the California Highway Patrol said in a Jan. 3 press release.

On Friday, Patel was released from the hospital and subsequently booked into the San Mateo County Jail. The San Mateo County District Attorney’s Office filed the attempted murder charges against Patel on Monday. Two of three three counts have domestic violence and great bodily injury enhancements, according to the complaint obtained by ABC News.

After Patel’s arraignment, San Mateo County District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe held a brief press conference to give an update on the investigation. He said evidence shows there were no signs of braking or skid marks before the car plunged off the cliff. Eyewitnesses who were driving behind Patel’s Tesla at the time have told investigators that the vehicle’s brake lights did not illuminate as it turned and drove off the edge, according to Wagstaffe.

Investigators have also recovered video from surveillance cameras near the Tom Lantos tunnels that show the Tesla driving out of a tunnel and off a cliff. Based on the evidence, prosecutors are certain that this was attempted murder. The footage will not be released to the public, the district attorney said.

The California Highway Patrol is still examining the car to make sure no malfunction occurred, in which case the charges would be changed, according to Wagstaffe, who noted that he does not anticipate this to happen.

Patel’s 41-year-old wife suffered “major injuries” from the crash and remains hospitalized, the district attorney said. Their 7-year-old daughter was also badly hurt, while their 4-year-old son “miraculously” sustained only bruises, according to Wagstaffe, who said that’s why there were no enhancements added to the third count of attempted murder.

“By some miracle that I don’t understand, all of them have survived. I’m glad for that,” Wagstaffe told reporters on Monday afternoon. “But it doesn’t change [what] we’ve charged him with.”

The district attorney said his office views the case as domestic violence. The judge denied prosecutors’ request for a no contact order and instead granted a no harassment order, according to Wagstaffe.

A potential motive remains under investigation.

“I mean, we know the motive was he didn’t want any of them to live any longer,” Wagstaffe added. “But what led to this, what has caused this, what was the trigger — that’s still under investigation. We’re hoping to learn more when the wife is hopefully available for an interview and is willing to speak with us at that point.”

If convicted on all charges with the special circumstances, Patel could be sentenced to a maximum of life in prison. He is due back in court on Feb. 9 and is expected to enter a plea, according to Wagstaffe.

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