California doctor who drove family off cliff seeks mental help

By Ritu Jha-

Prosecutors oppose efforts to get a man who drove off a cliff with his family to be part of California’s Mental Health Diversion program.

The San Mateo County district attorney in California says prosecutors oppose the effort on behalf of Dharmesh Patel, because he intentionally drove his Tesla off a cliff. The car 250 feet into the rocks and surf below. Patel was allegedly trying to kill his children and his wife.

The Mental Health Diversion program, allows those accused of a crime to get mental health for up to two years.

On Oct 28, prosecutors asked the court for more time to study the matter, which includes charges of attempt to murder and child abuse. The San Mateo County Superior Court has postponed the mental health diversion hearing from Nov. 1 to Nov. 8.

“My prosecutor needs to further investigate the matter,” DA Stephen Wagstaffe told indica. “We have a few things that caused us to want to do a little deeper dive… There will be a hearing at some point. The defense wants it… We’re opposing the motion for mental health.. Wagstaffe said that given the three counts of attempted murder against Patel, the prosecutors want to do a complete and thorough investigation.

Patel, 41, a radiologist of Indian origin from Pasadena, was driving his Tesla home with his wife Neha Patel, and two children, aged 7 and 4, on Highway One Southbound after a vacation with extended family in Dublin, California. He was barred from practicing medicine by the court in June 2023.

“Dr. Patel’s license is currently suspended via a Penal Code 23 order,” Alexandria Schembra, associate governmental program analyst at the Medical Board of California, told indica. “This order remains in effect until the case is concluded. While the board cannot comment on pending investigations, if the board obtains clear and convincing evidence that a physician has violated the Medical Practice Act, it will take appropriate action,”.

After leaving the Lantos Tunnel on January 2, Patel had driven the car uphill at ‘Devil’s Slide,’ a dangerous part of the highway. The car turned off the road onto a dirt area and then rolled off the cliff. All four people within survived after being air-lifted to Stanford Hospital..

Neha Patel accused her husband of trying to kill his family, telling rescuers that he was depressed and needed a psychological evaluation. Patel is being held in the San Mateo County jail without bail since his arrest. He pleaded not guilty, blaming the accident on his car’s tires. Investigators suspect that Neha Patel is right, and that Patel did try to kill his family.

On July 7, Patel’s attorney Joshua Bentley made a motion for mental health diversion, and indicated that major depressive disorder is a qualifying mental illness. If the court agrees, Patel could walk free after two years of treatment.

“Patel’s defense attorney is not claiming it was an accident any more,” Wagstaffe told indica. “Whether he intentionally drove over the cliff is no longer an issue for us. The issue now is whether he should get mental health diversion….. We have some more facts to learn about his past.“ I am told she (Neha) is willing to talk… so eventually we will interview her.”