Father who drove wife and children off cliff receives mental health diversion

This undated photo provided by the San Mateo County Sheriff's Office shows Dharmesh Patel.
Dharmesh Patel, the Pasadena doctor who pleaded not guilty to attempted murder and domestic violence after being accused of trying to kill his wife and children by driving off a cliff. (San Mateo County Sheriff's Office / Associated Press)

The Pasadena doctor accused of trying to kill his family by driving the family Tesla off a cliff with his wife and two children inside will receive mental health treatment and has the opportunity to get his criminal case dismissed, a judge ruled.

Dharmesh Patel, 43, has been held in jail in San Mateo County since January 2023, when he drove his wife and 7-year-old daughter and 4-year-old son off a cliff on Pacific Coast Highway at Devil's Slide, plummeting 250 feet to the rocky terrain below. The family miraculously survived.

On Thursday, a San Mateo Superior Court judge determined Patel was eligible for mental health diversion due to his major depressive disorder and can live with his parents during his treatment.

Doctors testifying for Patel's defense team said that Patel suffered from the disorder with "psychotic features," according to district attorney Stephen Wagstaffe, whose office opposed the diversion of the case. Patel's wife testified that he should be released, even after she told authorities earlier in the case that Patel "tried to kill us."

"He was worried about the world. He was concerned about everything going on in the world including that his children might ... [be] sex trafficked," Wagstaffe said.

San Mateo County Sheriff's Office, emergency personnel respond to a vehicle over the side of Highway 1 on Jan. 1, 2023.
Emergency personnel respond to the vehicle crash on Jan. 1, 2023, that led to Dharmesh Patel being jailed on suspicion of attempted murder and child abuse. (Sgt. Brian Moore / Associated Press)

Wagstaffe said that a doctor who examined Patel and testified on behalf of prosecutors disagreed with the defense's diagnosis and believed that Patel suffered from schizoaffective disorder.

"It’s a different course of treatment. If what he’s actually suffering from is schizoaffective disorder then their treatment plan and medication will not work and will not solve it," Wagstaffe told The Times.

Wagstaffe said diversion means the criminal case against Patel — in which he is charged with three counts of attempted murder — will be suspended. He will be in the mental health diversion program for two years. There is no probation or supervision beyond his meetings with the doctor handling his case, Wagstaffe said.

If Patel violates the provisions of the diversion, by breaking a law or failing to follow the conditions of the treatment plan, the criminal process resumes. If Patel gets through the two-year treatment plan successfully, the case would be dismissed.

Patel has not been released yet from jail, according to county records. The judge in the case has ordered the doctor to remain in San Mateo County during the duration of the mental health diversion. Patel will be required to check in at court once a week and will live with his parents in Belmont.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.