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Tesla driver is charged with intentionally plunging his family off a California cliff

A Tesla with four people inside crashed on the rocks over the cliffside off California's Highway 1 south of San Francisco on Monday. The driver has been arrested with intentionally driving the car off the cliff in an attempt to kill his family.
California Highway Patrol/Screenshot by NPR
A Tesla with four people inside crashed on the rocks over the cliffside off California's Highway 1 south of San Francisco on Monday. The driver has been arrested with intentionally driving the car off the cliff in an attempt to kill his family.

A Tesla driver has been arrested and charged with intentionally driving off a cliff in Northern California in an attempt to kill his family, law enforcement officials said.

At about 10:50 a.m. local time Monday, officials received a report of a vehicle over the cliff side on Highway 1 about 20 miles south of downtown San Francisco, the California Highway Patrol said in a press release Tuesday. Inside the white Tesla, about 250 to 300 feet down a cliff next to the Pacific Ocean, were two children, a 4-year-old boy and a 7-year-old girl, and two adults, both 41, who all survived.

Multiple agencies including the California Highway Patrol, the San Mateo County Sheriff's Office, and the U.S. Coast Guard responded.

Firefighters rappelled down the cliff and rescued the children first, while a helicopter rescue technician was lowered to the scene and helped rescue the adults. A Stanford Life Flight helicopter transported the two adults to a local hospital, the Highway Patrol said.

"We come out here unfortunately all too often for things like this," Coastside Fire Protection District Battalion Chief Brian Pottenger told local TV station KTVU. "And this was nothing short of a miracle today that they survived."

Officials allege the incident was intentional, placing driver Dharmesh Patel of Pasadena, Calif., under arrest for attempted murder and child abuse.

"CHP investigators worked throughout the night interviewing witnesses and gathering evidence from the scene," the Highway Patrol said. "Based on the evidence collected, investigators developed probable cause to believe this incident was an intentional act."

Patel will be transported to San Mateo County Jail after he is released from the hospital.

It is unclear what driving mode the Tesla was in at the time of the crash, but officials say the driving mode "does not appear to be a contributing factor" in the incident.

"This remains an ongoing investigation and no further information is being released at this time," the Highway Patrol said.

In 2018, a couple drove themselves and their six adopted children off a cliff north of San Francisco after fleeing their home following a visit from social services authorities. The children were being deprived of food by their parents, according to a complaint filed by their neighbors.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Ashley Ahn
Ashley Ahn is an intern for the Digital News and Graphics desks. She previously covered the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines for CNN's health and medical unit and the trial of Ahmaud Arbery's killers for CNN's Atlanta News Bureau. She also wrote pieces for USA TODAY and served as the Executive Editor of her college's student newspaper, The Daily Pennsylvanian. Recently graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, Ahn is pursuing a master's degree in computer science at Columbia University.