New details revealed on doctor who drove family over Devil’s Slide cliff

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REDWOOD CITY, Calif. (KRON) — A doctor who intentionally drove his entire family over a 300-foot cliff at Devil’s Slide, and crashed their Tesla onto a rocky beach below, still has full support from his family, prosecutors said. Dharmesh Patel’s wife and young children miraculously survived the January 2, 2023 crash off Highway 1 between Pacifica and Half Moon Bay.

Inside a San Mateo County courtroom on Friday, Patel’s siblings and his wife’s parents sat in the gallery for closing arguments to show their support, even despite the terrifying incident. New details about the high-profile case were revealed at the hearing held in Mental Health Diversion Court.

Patel never spoke in the courtroom, he was dressed in orange inmate clothing, and his feet were shackled with chains. The doctor has been held in jail with no bail for more than 16 months.

Defense attorney Joshua Bentley outlined his final arguments for why he believes Patel should face no criminal charges, and instead be diverted into a two-year mental health outpatient treatment program at a South Bay hospital.

The Patel family’s mangled Tesla is searched at the crash scene below Devil’s Slide in San Mateo County on January 2, 2023. The victims were airlifted in helicopters. (Image courtesy SMCSO)
The Patel family’s mangled Tesla is searched at the crash scene below Devil’s Slide in San Mateo County on January 2, 2023. The victims were airlifted in helicopters. (Image courtesy SMCSO)

Bentley began his closing argument Friday stating, “It’s important to understand why we are here. Not everyone who commits a crime is a criminal. There is no question this is a very serious case. But the law encompasses this very situation.”

The defense says Patel qualifies for the court to grant mental health diversion under California law. Patel will not pose a danger to the community because he will be under an intensive psychiatric treatment program, as well as monitored with a GPS bracelet equipped with a siren, Bentley said.

The District Attorney’s Office asserted that the case should move forward to a criminal trial. If convicted of three attempted murder charges, Patel would face decades in prison. Judge Susan Jakubowski said she will not make a ruling until June 20.

Dharmesh Patel is seen in a January 2023 mugshot provided by the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office.

The victims in the case are the doctor’s wife, 8-year-old daughter, and 5-year-old son. The case should not qualify for mental health diversion, Davis said, because “the defendant will pose an unreasonable risk of danger to public safety.”

On Friday, Bentley and Deputy District Attorney Dominique Davis sparred over Patel’s mental health history and diagnosis.

Citing previous testimony from Dr. Yan Chan, Davis said Patel was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder. The defense team’s experts, Dr. James Armontrout and Dr. Mark Patterson, diagnosed Patel with major depressive disorder.

Davis said the evidence shows Patel was experiencing paranoia and delusions in the weeks leading up to the triple attempted murder, which are symptoms of schizoaffective disorder. “He was hearing footsteps at night. He feared his children would be sold into sex slavery. He carried a knife around for three days. None of this was based on reality … and the defendant felt compelled to act. He drove his entire family over a cliff. It’s a very high and deathly drop,” the prosecutor said.

(CHP video of the crash scene can be viewed below:)

“What is most frightening is, no one saw this coming,” Davis told the judge. In December 2022, the Patel family had traveled from their home in Pasadena to his parents’ house in the Bay Area for the holidays. During the visit, Patel seemed sad and less social during the holiday visit, not homicidal nor suicidal, family members told investigators.

Patel felt like the world was caving in because of Russia’s war in Ukraine, the fentanyl crisis, child sex trafficking, and Jeffery Epstein, according to prosecutors. His wife told investigators that he sent her news articles about those topics, and he struggled to sleep at night.

In the days immediately after the crash, Patel told California Highway Patrol officers and doctors at Stanford hospital that that cliff crash was an accident. Patel was in “the throes of psychosis,” but he was able to “mask” his mental illness from doctors and law enforcement, Davis told the judge. “He tells the same lies,” she added.

Davis said Patel only admitted that he intentionally drove over the cliff at Devil’s Slide when he thought it would help his case.

Dharmesh Patel and his Defense Attorney Joshua Bentley appear inside a courtroom in Redwood City on February 9, 2023. (Pool photo)
Dharmesh Patel and his Defense Attorney Joshua Bentley appear inside a courtroom in Redwood City on February 9, 2023. (Pool photo)

Patel’s wife, who suffered severe spinal injuries in the crash, testified for the hearing last week that she does not want her husband prosecuted. The wife said her children miss their father and she wants Patel to be freed from jail so he can return home. Prosecutors argue that Patel is not only a danger to his family, he could also pose a danger to the public if he slipped back into a psychotic state.

The high-profile case has been highly publicized in the media. While a KRON4 reporter and four other journalists wrote notes in the courtroom on Friday, Bentley implored the judge to not let pressure from “the press” sway her decision.

(Aerial image of the crash scene courtesy California Highway Patrol)
(Aerial image of the crash scene courtesy California Highway Patrol)

If the judge rules in favor of mental health diversion, Patel would be immediately released from custody and allowed to live in San Mateo County. A court-ordered domestic violence restraining order protecting his wife and children would remain in place.

Bentley said, “Mr. Patel is a good man, a good husband, and a good father. He is beloved by his community. He has zero criminal history. (The crash) was 100 percent a mental health episode. He has been receiving treatment for 16 months. Every case has a risk factor.”

‘Big stakes’ for doctor charged with attempting to murder his family

Bentley said his client’s major depressive disorder is currently in remission, and he will continue to be stable under an outpatient treatment program through El Camino Health hospital. The defense denied that Patel suffers from schizoaffective disorder.

Davis said the proposed mental health treatment plan is woefully inadequate. If Patel experiences another rapid psychiatric breakdown, law enforcement will not be able to detain him in time, she said.

Before the judge makes her ruling, Davis told the judge, “You are the gatekeeper for this program. And this whole program is based on, let’s let him out (of jail) and then let’s figure it out later.”

Judge Jakubowski will announce the ruling when Patel returns to court on June 20 at 9 a.m. in the San Mateo County Hall of Justice.

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