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Doctor who drove family off Devil's Slide cliff avoids jail time

2 children, 2 adults pulled alive from car after Devil's Slide plunge
2 children, 2 adults pulled alive from car after Devil's Slide plunge 01:10

A Southern California doctor who drove his Tesla off Highway 1 on the San Mateo County coast with his family inside will avoid jail time, prosecutors said.

San Mateo County District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe's Office announced that a judge found 43-year-old Dharmesh Arvind Patel of Pasadena was found "eligible and suitable" for mental health diversion. Judge Susan M. Jakubowski issued the ruling at a hearing Thursday morning.

"Judge Jakubowski made a lengthy statement concluding the defendant was suitable for mental health diversion.  She stated that after review of all the evidence, she had concluded the proper diagnosis for the defendant's mental illness was major depressive disorder which is a qualifying mental disorder under the statute," the DA's office said in a statement Thursday afternoon.

The judge also ruled that Patel will remain in county jail for several weeks for a "bridging period" before being released, as suggested by doctors on the defense. 

After release, Patel must be monitored by GPS, must stay at his parents' home in Belmont, cannot leave San Mateo County and can only leave home for court or treatment sessions for the first two months. Patel is also prohibited from using alcohol or drugs and cannot drive.

Proscecutors said Patel was behind the wheel of his Tesla on Jan. 2, 2023 with his wife and children, ages 7 and 4, along Highway 1. After leaving the Tom Lantos tunnel, Patel drove up a hill at Devil's Slide and turned over the cliff, plunging 250 feet to the rocks below.

Dhamesh Patel
Dhamesh Patel in undated photo provided by the San Mateo County Sheriff's Office. San Mateo County Sheriff's Office via AP

All four occupants of the vehicle survived the impact, with one child suffering minor injuries.

Patel pleaded not guilty to three counts of attempted murder following the incident.

Prosecutors said Patel and his family were in the Bay Area to visit relatives over the holidays. The motive of the incident is unclear.  

Patel remains in custody without bail, according to the DA's office. A hearing on the mental health diversion is scheduled for July 1.

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