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Pasadena Doctor Who Drove Family Off Cliff Avoids Trial, Granted Mental Health Diversion

Judge rules Dharmesh Patel eligible for treatment program, suspending criminal charges in dramatic Northern California Highway 1 crash

Published on Friday, June 21, 2024 | 5:57 am

A Pasadena radiologist accused of intentionally driving his Tesla off a cliff with his family inside will avoid trial for now and instead enter a mental health diversion program, a judge ruled Thursday.

Dharmesh Patel, 43, was charged with three counts of attempted murder after the January 2, 2023 incident on Highway 1 in San Mateo County.

San Mateo County Superior Court Judge Susan Jakubowski found Patel “eligible and suitable” for mental health diversion, a program established in 2018 to address mental illness in the criminal justice system.

The ruling could lead to a dismissal of all charges against Patel if he successfully completes the two-year treatment program, which will be overseen by Stanford University’s forensic psychiatric fellowship.

Prosecutors had strongly objected to the diversion, arguing Patel posed a danger to the public. Deputy District Attorney Dominique Davis said Patel suffered from schizoaffective disorder and delusions.

“He feared his children would be sold into sex slavery. He carried a knife around for three days,” Davis said, describing Patel’s mental state before the crash.

Patel’s defense attorney countered that he suffered from major depressive disorder, which the judge ultimately accepted as the proper diagnosis for his mental illness.

The incident occurred when Patel drove his Tesla off Highway 1 near Devil’s Slide, plunging 330 feet onto a rocky beach north of Half Moon Bay.

Miraculously, Patel, his wife, and their two children, then ages 4 and 7, all survived the crash. They were rescued by helicopter and airlifted to hospitals.

Initially, Patel claimed the crash was an accident, possibly due to tire issues. However, his wife reportedly told first responders he had intentionally driven off the cliff.

Investigators later determined the Tesla’s self-driving features were not a factor in the incident. Psychologists testified that Patel’s actions appeared rooted in delusional fears.

Judge Jakubowski described Patel as “by all accounts a kind and loving” person who would be better served by treatment at home than awaiting trial in jail.

“He wants to continue psychiatric treatment,” Jakubowski said. “The court believes he now realized the importance of being forthright.”

Patel’s wife testified in support of his release, stating, “We’re not a family without him.” She pledged to seek help if needed and report any signs of mental instability.

Under the terms of the diversion program, Patel will remain in jail for several more weeks before being released to live with his parents in San Mateo County.

Before his potential release, Patel must undergo a two-to-three week “bridging period,” which includes regular visits with clinicians to ensure a smooth transition from jail.

He will be required to wear a GPS device, cannot leave the county except for treatment, and is barred from contacting his wife or children due to a protective order.

Patel is also prohibited from practicing medicine while in the program. A hearing on July 1 will address his potential release from jail to begin the treatment program.

The case has drawn attention to California’s mental health diversion law, which aims to reduce incarceration rates for individuals with treatable mental illnesses who commit crimes.

If Patel successfully completes the two-year program, prosecutors will be required to dismiss all charges against him, including the three counts of attempted murder.

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