HELPLINE: 650-638-0802 / CRISIS LINE: 650-579-0350 / TEXT 988 LIFELINE

About Mental Health

Her testimony came during a hearing to determine the Pasadena father’s suitability for a mental health diversion program.

REDWOOD CITY — The wife of Dharmesh Patel — who was sitting next to him when the Pasadena radiologist allegedly drove the family’s Tesla off a 250-foot cliff near Devil’s Slide last year — pleaded in court Thursday for her husband to be released from jail and sent home under a mental health diversion program.

Neha Patel implored prosecutors to drop the criminal charges against her husband, despite allegations that he tried to kill his family in January 2023 by plunging off Highway 1 and onto a rocky beach near Half Moon Bay.

Dharmesh Patel faces three charges of attempted murder — one each for allegedly trying to kill his wife and their two children, now ages 9 and 5.

His attorneys have asked a San Mateo County Superior Court judge to grant him entry into a mental health diversion program that would lead to all of the charges against him being dropped if he successfully completes a two-year treatment program.

Patel’s mental state has been a central issue in the case, with his wife initially telling first responders that her husband was “depressed” and that “he was going to drive off the cliff. He purposely drove off.” Investigators also said the Tesla’s self-driving features did “not appear to be a contributing factor” in the incident.

On Thursday, Patel’s wife spoke for the first time in court since the Jan. 2, 2023, crash, which left her hospitalized with serious injuries. Her voice often cracking, she blamed Patel’s actions that day on “a mental health episode beyond any of our understanding or control” and said “things will be different” if her husband is allowed to return home to their family.

“We need him in our life,” said Neha Patel, who was not identified by name in court and addressed the courtroom via a video call. “We’re not a family without him.”

She emphasized Thursday that she “will not hesitate to seek help when needed” under the plan that relies, in part, on Dharmesh Patel’s family to report any signs of further mental instability to the court.

“The health and safety of my family is of paramount importance,” she said.

She also spoke at length about the impact of her husband’s absence on their family, while he faces charges and is held in a San Mateo County jail without bail. Noting that Friday is the couple’s 16th wedding anniversary, she called him a “kind and altruistic” man who “has been my best friend for more than 25 years.” She recalled how he bought dinner for his colleagues and poinsettias for neighbors during the winter holidays.

She said she has often found her daughter crying at night over her father’s absence, while her son has asked why it’s “taking so long” for his dad to return home.

“He wished daddy would magically appear on St. Patrick’s Day when he saw a rainbow,” she said, adding that the boy was “heartbroken” when that didn’t happen. “Seeing my kids in emotional pain is one of the hardest things I’ve had to endure.”

Patel’s entry into the program “not only will restore him back to himself but it will restore the health and wellness of our entire family,” his wife added.

Her testimony came shortly before a psychologist suggested that her husband was misdiagnosed by the doctors who treated him in the months after the crash. The psychologist, Yan Chan, raised concerns about Patel’s release while not on the type of anti-psychotic medications that he stopped taking a year ago. The drugs are meant to quell the type of paranoid delusions that may have fueled last year’s crash.

“We simply don’t know what might be triggering” to Patel, the psychologist testified, adding that Patel would be entering “a ripe environment for these kind of brewing thoughts, these delusions, to come back.”

State legislators in 2018 established the mental health diversion program as a way for eligible defendants to see their cases dismissed if they successfully complete a rigorous and lengthy treatment program. If the diversion request is granted, a Stanford psychiatric clinician, James Armontrout, said he’d oversee Patel’s treatment. That plan would include intensive outpatient care involving group and individual therapy sessions, as well as meetings with himself and a psychotherapist.

San Mateo County prosecutors, however, have filed motions opposing the request. Closing arguments are scheduled for May 10.

Patel has pleaded not guilty, claiming the family’s Tesla had been experiencing tire issues that may have caused the crash. He allegedly told investigators that he stopped three times at gas stations that day to put air in his left-rear tire while driving to the Devil’s Slide area. He suffered injuries to his leg and foot, while his wife suffered more severe injuries. Their 7-year-old child was seriously injured, and their 4-year-old only suffered bruises.

Mark Patterson, a psychologist whom Patel’s attorney called to the witness stand last month, testified that Patel appeared to be experiencing major depressive disorder that day, along with psychotic features and anxious distress. In the days before the crash, Patel grew increasingly delusional and overwhelmed about news from around the world, such as the war in Ukraine and the U.S. fentanyl crisis, Patterson said. The radiologist’s greatest delusions revolved around the risk of his children being kidnapped and molested, the psychologist added.

But Chan, a witness called by prosecutors, testified Thursday that Patel suffers from a different condition, schizoaffective disorder. Chan reached that conclusion in April, despite initially agreeing with Patterson’s diagnosis.

Chan said that he first suspected the new diagnosis after reviewing the radiologist’s medical records from the first weeks after the crash, as well as after speaking with Patel’s wife — a step Patterson never took. Chan said he formally changed his diagnosis after reviewing jail records that suggested Patel appeared to harbor paranoid feelings and negative thoughts for at least two years before the crash.

Patel continues to be barred from practicing medicine in the state after a judge’s order. An attorney for the Medical Board of California said Thursday that the group was asking that the order be extended through the completion of the mental health program, if Patel is sent there.