Trial or Treatment: The Case of California Dr. Dharmesh Patel, Who Drove Tesla Off Cliff Fearing Child Sex Trafficking

Written on 04/27/2024
Asia91 Team

On January 2, 2023, Dr. Dharmesh Patel, a 41-year-old doctor from Pasadena, drove his Tesla through Lantos Tunnel, veered off Highway 1 at Devil’s Slide, and plummeted 250 feet onto a rocky beach below. 


He is currently facing serious legal consequences, including a potential life sentence, after being charged with attempting to murder his family. This accusation follows the incident where he deliberately drove his Tesla over a cliff along Highway 1. 


The defense is seeking to move the case to a mental health diversion program, arguing that Patel’s actions were influenced by his struggle with Major Depressive Disorder.


If the court approves the diversion based on his mental health condition, Patel might be released from jail, effectively clearing his criminal record.


Dharmesh Patel, a radiologist from Pasadena, drove off a cliff with his family due to a psychotic episode, fearing his children were at risk of sex trafficking, testified Dr. Mark Patterson. Diagnosed with major depressive disorder, Patel was paranoid about being followed and concerned about global issues like the fentanyl crisis and the Ukraine war before the crash on January 2, 2023.


Key Highlights of Dharmesh Patel's Case:


Background Information

  • Who: Dharmesh Patel, a radiologist from Pasadena, California.
  • Incident: Allegedly drove his Tesla off a cliff with his family inside in January 2023.
  • Charges: Three counts of attempted murder and domestic violence.
  • Current Status: Held without bail, stripped of his medical license.

Psychiatric Evaluations

  • Initial Findings: Diagnosed with major depressive disorder and described as psychotic.
  • Defense Testimony: Experts claim the disorder is in remission and he's suitable for mental health diversion.
  • Prosecution Skepticism: District Attorney Stephen Wagstaffe has doubts and plans a second evaluation.

Legal Proceedings

  • Mental Health Diversion Hearing: Scheduled for May 2.
  • Eligibility: To qualify, Patel must demonstrate that his mental illness contributed to the alleged crime.
  • Potential Outcomes:
    • If diversion is granted and completed successfully, charges could be dismissed.
    • If not granted or completed, Patel faces a criminal trial.

Family and Survivor Statements

  • Wife's Testimony: Neha Patel, indicated Dharmesh acted intentionally.
  • Children's Status: Both children were in the car; the older child suffered serious injuries, the younger was largely unharmed.

Implications and Concerns

  • Public Safety: Questions about the safety of releasing someone charged with violent offenses back into the community.
  • Legal Precedents: The case could influence how mental health issues are treated in the legal system, especially in violent crime cases.

Upcoming Legal Actions

  • State Legislation: Discussion on amending laws regarding eligibility for mental health diversion for attempted murder cases.
  • Medical Licensing: Ongoing ban from practicing medicine as legal proceedings continue.


Dharmesh Patel's upcoming hearing and the corresponding psychiatric evaluations are crucial in determining whether he will undergo treatment or face a trial. This case highlights the challenges of addressing mental health within the judicial system, balancing treatment and public safety.

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