A California man has been charged with three counts of attempted murder after he drove his car off a cliff with his wife and two young children in the vehicle earlier this month.
On Monday, prosecutors charged Dharmesh Patel, 41, accusing him of deliberately steering his Tesla sedan over a 75-metre drop along a stretch of highway called Devil’s Slide in San Mateo County, Calif.
Patel, his wife, 41, and their two children, seven and four years old, were hospitalized but survived the crash on Jan. 2. The names of the other family members have not been released publicly.
Authorities originally said it was an “absolute miracle” that the family survived the fall onto a rocky outcropping.
Of the three charges currently against Patel, two come with domestic violence and great bodily injury enhancements.
San Mateo County District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe said during a news conference on Monday that Patel’s wife received “major injuries” as a result of the crash.
The seven-year-old was also injured, though Wagstaffe did not provide any details.
Wagstaffe said the four-year-old “miraculously” left the scene with only a few bruises, making the third charge unable to qualify for significant bodily injury.
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Patel, who is currently being held without bail, has not yet entered a plea. He is expected to appear in court again on Feb. 9.
Police have not publicly identified a motive. Authorities said there is nevertheless enough evidence from surveillance cameras and eyewitness accounts to prove Patel deliberately drove off the cliff.
The California Highway Patrol believes, based on its initial investigation, that the Tesla did not malfunction and was not operating in Autopilot or Full Self-Driving mode at the time of the crash.
Car crashes in and around Devil’s Slide are relatively common and usually fatal, according to Brian Pottenger, a battalion chief for Coastside Fire Protection District.
After the crash, Pottenger said he and the other rescue personnel were “very shocked when we found survivable victims in the vehicle.”
The rescue took several hours due to the car’s location and difficult weather conditions at the time, including rain and heavy winds. Firefighters used extraction equipment to cut the family members out of the car.
CNN reported that the judge denied prosecutors’ request for a no-contact order against Patel on Monday. A no-harassment order was enacted in its place, which allows Patel to contact his family.
Patel was arrested on suspicion of attempted murder one day after the crash.