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The California doctor who threw his family off the cliff will not be tried


Dharmesh Patel, 42, was charged with three counts of attempted murder in January 2023 after authorities said he deliberately drove his Tesla off a cliff with his wife and children inside the car.

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A California doctor accused of intentionally driving himself and his family off a cliff along the Pacific Coast Highway last year will not stand trial and has been granted a mental health diversion, according to court records.

Dharmesh Patel, 42, was charged with three counts of attempted murder in January 2023 after authorities said he deliberately drove his Tesla off a San Mateo County cliff with his wife and children, who were 4 and 7. years at that time, inside. Patel has pleaded not guilty to the charges and will now avoid jail time after a judge granted him a mental health diversion last week.

San Mateo County Superior Court Judge Susan Jakubowski on Thursday concluded that Patel’s depressive disorder made him eligible for a mental health diversion, according to a statement from the San Mateo County District Attorney’s Office obtained by The New York Times and CBS News.

“Judge Jakubowski made a lengthy statement concluding that the defendant was suitable for mental health diversion. She said that after reviewing all of the evidence, she had concluded that the appropriate diagnosis for the defendant’s mental illness was a major depressive disorder, which is a qualified mental disorder under the statute,” the district attorney’s office said in the statement.

The mental health diversion program was requested by Patel’s attorney, who argued that Patel should be placed in a two-year mental health outpatient treatment program instead of standing trial, KRON-TV reported in May. “Not everyone who commits a crime is a criminal,” Patel’s attorney, Joshua Bentley, said in court at the time.

Patel’s doctors, who diagnosed him with schizoaffective disorder and major depressive disorder, suggested he be held in the county jail for several weeks as a “bridge period” before being released, according to the district attorney’s office. A hearing on mental health diversion is scheduled for July 1.

Once released, the district attorney’s office said Patel will be required to remain at his parents’ residence in Belmont, California, and will only be allowed to leave the residence for his treatment program or appear in court. Patel would also be required to wear a GPS monitor and surrender her driver’s license and his passport.

The San Mateo County District Attorney’s Office did not immediately respond to USA TODAY’s request for comment Tuesday.

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Patel was driving his white Tesla on the Pacific Coast Highway on Jan. 2, 2023, when the vehicle plunged several hundred feet down a cliff in Devil’s Slide, a coastal area known for being rocky and steep. Emergency services spent several hours trying to rescue the family amid harsh conditions.

Firefighters were able to remove the family from the vehicle, who survived the impact, and were transported to a hospital for treatment.

Cal Fire Battalion Chief Brian Pottenger had said people rarely survived accidents along Devil’s Slide. “We go looking for cars off the cliff all the time and they never survive. This was a real miracle,” he said at the time of the incident.

After reviewing evidence from the crash, authorities said investigators “developed probable cause to believe this incident was an intentional act.” Patel was arrested that same day and has remained in the county jail since the incident.

A search warrant affidavit unsealed last May revealed that Patel’s wife told authorities that her husband was depressed and needed a psychological evaluation.

“He left. He’s depressed,” Neha Patel, who was 41 at the time, told a California Highway Patrol officer. “He said he was going to drive off the cliff. He left on purpose.”

Neha Patel and other family members have shown their support for Dharmesh Patel in the case, according to KRON-TV. She has testified that she does not want her husband to be prosecuted and added that she wants Patel to be released from jail.

Contributing: Natalie Neysa Alund and Amanda Lee Myers, USA TODAY

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