Pasadena radiologist who drove Tesla off cliff did it intentionally, wife says in newly unsealed court records

REDWOOD CITY — The wife of a man who drove his Tesla off a cliff with his family inside told police after she was rescued that her husband did it on purpose, newly unsealed records in the harrowing attempted murder case show.

The three-page court affidavit released Tuesday offers the first public statements from Neha Patel and sheds more light on the near-death experiences of the wife and her two young children after Dharmesh Patel drove off a coastal San Mateo County cliff on Jan. 2.

“He drove off. He’s depressed. He’s a doctor. He said he was going to drive off the cliff. He purposefully drove off,” Neha Patel said to a California Highway Patrol officer as she was being airlifted out of Devil’s Slide to Stanford Hospital, according to the records.

Dharmesh Patel — a radiologist from Pasadena — has pleaded not guilty to three counts of attempted murder. His attorney, Joshua Bentley, did not return a request for comment on Wednesday.

Besides the wife’s account, which contradicts her husband’s claim that the Tesla had tire pressure issues, the affidavit written by CHP Officer Aaron Sapien contains other eye witness accounts, forensics findings from the crash site, and  Dharmesh Patel’s version of events given to investigators while in the hospital, including a conversation about his mental health.

The crash left Patel with injuries to his leg and foot, while his wife suffered more severe injuries. The children both were release from the hospital within a month of the crash: the 7-year-old had more serious injuries than the 4-year-old son, who survived with only bruises, authorities said.

According to Sapien’s affidavit, Patel said he was “not really depressed” and just “felt down” because “times were bad in the world.” Asked if he felt suicidal, Patel said “you know, not like a plan, not usually.”

Patel added that his wife was “irritated” with him shortly before the crash because she didn’t want to stop at his brother’s house before going back to their home in Southern California, the records show.

On the drive from Belmont to the brother’s house in Montara, Neha Patel told investigators that her husband stopped at three gas stations on the drive to put air in his left rear tire, despite no sensor showing low tire pressure. Sapien wrote that Patel said his car “began to feel different” while driving on the highway.

Three witnesses said the Tesla didn’t slow down as it traveled up the dirt road and then off the cliff. One witness said she didn’t see the car brake after it made a right turn and went up a dirt road off the highway. Another witness said the car left the highway “facing 90 degrees,” went up the dirt road toward an old military bunker and accelerated into a right turn and then off the cliff.

A CHP officer observed two tire marks believed to be from the Tesla, Sapien wrote.

“The tire marks are consistent with a vehicle making a gradual right turn,” the affidavit says. “The marks continue up the inclined dirt/sand road and end at the apex of the embankment. There appeared to be no indication of any braking… from the driver or vehicle.”

Surveillance video taken from the Tom Lantos Tunnels confirms witness accounts and forensic analysis from the scene.

The video showed the Tesla traveling southbound, and the brake lights were activated three times within a span of five seconds. After the third brake light activation, Sapien wrote, the Tesla makes a gradual right turn, entering an opening after the guardrail ends and driving on the inclined dirt path. The Tesla then drove on the dirt path until it reached the edge of the cliffside.

“The Tesla then went over the cliff, front end first, and down the cliffside,” Sapien wrote, landing wheels down.

Sapien’s affidavit also shows investigators asked the electric car maker to provide “cloud” data from the car’s navigation system that could show the speed the vehicle was traveling, warning signs of pending hazards and what inputs the driver was giving to the vehicle.

CHP through a reconstruction of the crash also determined that Tesla’s self-driving features did “not appear to be a contributing factor” in the incident. Tesla has faced legal and public scrutiny after high-profile crashes involving its self-driving mode.

Patel is due in court for a preliminary hearing at 9 a.m. on June 12.

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