‘Did the brakes fail?’: Prosecutors checking car for mechanical problems in Tesla crash off Highway 1

A crumbled car on rocks.
This image from video provided by the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office shows a Tesla vehicle that plunged off a Northern California cliff along the Pacific Coast Highway on Jan. 2, 2023.
(San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office via Associatd Press)

Prosecutors who are investigating whether the driver of a Tesla intentionally crashed the car three weeks ago off the side of Highway 1, nearly killing his family members, are now also exploring whether mechanical problems could have caused the incident, the San Mateo County district attorney told The Times.

The driver of the white Tesla, Dharmesh Patel, was initially arrested by California Highway Patrol on suspicion of attempted murder and child endangerment for allegedly purposefully driving his wife and two children off the highway at Devil’s Slide in Northern California. But Dist. Atty. Steve Wagstaffe said his office is also investigating whether the crash could have been caused by an issue with the car.

“Did the brakes fail? Were the brakes working? Were there any other mechanical malfunctions that would have led to him not being able to stop the vehicle?” Wagstaffe said in an interview. “We’re having the car looked at from top to bottom.”

Prosecutors are still in the early stages of the investigation, Wagstaffe said.

After examining the case, investigators with the California Highway Patrol “developed probable cause to believe this incident was an intentional act” and placed Patel under arrest, the CHP said in a statement at the time of the arrest.

Patel remains hospitalized.

The crash occurred Jan. 2 when Patel was driving the car with his wife, Neha, and their two children, ages 4 and 7. The family survived the 250- to 300-foot fall, but the celebration of their rescue quickly darkened when Patel was arrested at Stanford Hospital, where he was being treated for injuries sustained in the crash.


Patel has since been transferred to San Mateo Medical Center, Wagstaffe said.

The case alarmed neighbors, who knew the Patels as an “idyllic” family that lived at the end of a quiet cul-de-sac in Pasadena.