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Man who drove off cliff says he was pulling over to check tire pressure; wife claims he drove off purposefully

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Posted at 10:16 PM, May 20, 2023

A California man accused of purposefully driving himself, his wife and two children off a cliff on a coastal highway told police he pulled off to the side of the road to check on the car’s tire pressure, according to court documents exclusively obtained by the San Francisco Chronicle.

His wife told first responders her husband, 41-year-old Dharmesh Patel, drove them off the cliff on purpose, the Chronicle reported, citing a search warrant affidavit.

The outlet did not post the court documents online.

Patel was charged with three counts of attempted murder in January after prosecutors say he intentionally steered his Tesla off a portion of the Pacific Coast Highway called Devil’s Slide, sending the family plunging about 250 feet to a rocky beach below. All four family members survived the crash. He pleaded not guilty to the charges.

CNN has reached out to Patel’s attorney and his wife, Neha Patel, for comment. CNN is also working to obtain a copy of the court documents.

When rescuers were pulling the family members out of the car, the wife told an emergency worker “something to the effect that the driver, her husband Dharmesh Patel, did it on purpose,” CHP officer Aaron Sapien wrote in a three-page search warrant affidavit seeking grounds to seize Patel’s property, the Chronicle reports.

“She then told him that her husband needs a psych evaluation,” Sapien wrote in the affidavit, according to the Chronicle. “She said that suspect Patel drove them off and repeated this multiple times.”

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This image from the San Mateo County Sheriff's Office shows the Tesla on a rocky beach below the cliffs, in an area called Devil's Slide.

Another emergency worker also recalled hearing Neha say Patel drove off the cliff on purpose and “tried to kill everyone,” Sapien wrote in the affidavit, the Chronicle reports.

During an interview with police following the incident, Patel told investigators he and his family were driving approximately 20 miles to his brother’s home in Montara, California, the Chronicle reports, citing the search warrant. He told officers he stopped at three gas stations on the drive to put air in the left rear tire, but his dashboard sensor continued to show low pressure, the search warrant says, according to the outlet. While driving on the highway, Patel said the car “began to feel different,” Sapien wrote in the warrant, the outlet says.

“Patel then moved the Tesla to the ‘dirt path’ to check the tire air pressure,” the officer wrote in the search warrant, the Chronicle says. “Patel related that it was a short distance before they fell down the cliff.”

Patel also told officers he hadn’t been on any medication or under the influence at the time of the crash, the search warrant says, according to the outlet.

“When asked if he felt depressed, he related he was not really depressed, he just felt down because times were bad in the world, the war and the drugs,” Sapien wrote in the search warrant, the Chronicle says. “When asked if he felt suicidal, he stated, ‘you know, not like a plan, not usually’ and related that he was more worried about the world.”

In responding to the Chronicle’s report, San Mateo District Attorney Stephen Wagstaffe told CNN there was “nothing new for us” as his office wrote the documents that supported the search warrants. “The details in the documents are important evidence of the charges we have brought against Mr. Patel,” he said.

Patel is scheduled to appear in court June 12 for a preliminary hearing, court records show.