Man accused of intentionally driving off California cliff with 2 kids, another adult in car

MONTARA, Calif. (AP) — The driver of a car that plunged off a cliff in Northern California, seriously wounding two children and a second adult after the 250-foot drop, was arrested on suspicion of attempted murder and child abuse, the California Highway Patrol said Tuesday.

Dharmesh A. Patel of Pasadena will be booked into San Mateo County Jail after he’s released from a hospital, the highway patrol said in a statement. It wasn’t immediately known if Patel has an attorney.

“CHP investigators worked throughout the night interviewing witnesses and gathering evidence from the scene,” the highway patrol statement said. “Based on the evidence collected, investigators developed probable cause to believe this incident was an intentional act.”

Patel, 42, was in the car with a 41-year-old woman, a 7-year-old girl, and a 4-year-old boy, according to court documents cited by CBS News. Patel is a doctor in radiology at Providence Holy Cross Medical Center in the Mission Hills area of Los Angeles, and a statement released by the hospital on Tuesday indicated that members of his family were in the car.

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“Providence Holy Cross Medical Center is deeply saddened to learn of a traffic incident involving one of our physicians and his family,” said the statement, which was reported by KABC-TV. “We are extremely grateful there were no serious injuries. We will not respond further, as this incident is under investigation.”

California Car Falls Off Cliff

This image from video shows a Tesla vehicle that plunged off a Northern California cliff along the Pacific Coast Highway on Monday near an area known as Devil’s Slide.

Officials said it was a miracle the four survived after the car tumbled down a notorious cliffside along the Pacific Coast Highway near an area called Devil’s Slide that’s known for fatal wrecks.

The Tesla sedan plummeted more than 250 feet from the highway and crashed into a rocky outcropping. It appears to have flipped a few times before landing on its wheels, wedged against the cliff just feet from the surf, Brian Pottenger, a battalion chief for Coastside Fire Protection District/Cal Fire, said Monday.

Crashes along Devil’s Slide, a steep, rocky and winding coastal area about 15 miles south of San Francisco that’s between Pacifica and Montara, rarely end with survivors. On Monday, the victims were initially listed in critical condition but all four were conscious and alert when rescuers arrived.

“We go there all the time for cars over the cliff and they never live. This was an absolute miracle,” Pottenger said Monday.

There was no guardrail at the spot where the sedan went off the cliff, officials said.

Witnesses called 911 around 10:15 a.m. Monday, and crews set up a rope system from the highway to lower firefighters down the cliff, the battalion chief said. At the same time, other firefighters watching the sedan through binoculars suddenly noticed movement — a sign that at least one person was still alive.

The incident turned from what had been likely a recovery of bodies to a rescue operation that took several hours amid constant rain, heavy winds, slick roads and crashing waves. The doors were smashed against the cliff and jammed shut, so firefighters were forced to cut the victims out of the car using the so-called “jaws of life” tools.

Crews pulled the kids out of the back window and brought them up the cliff by hand in a rescue basket using the rope system. They were rushed to the hospital by ambulance with musculoskeletal injuries.

The adults had traumatic injuries, however, and had to be hoisted up the cliff by a helicopter. They were then both flown to the hospital, the battalion chief said.

In 2018, a woman intentionally drove off another Northern California cliff in an SUV with her wife and their six adopted children, investigators said. All were killed. The crash in Mendocino County happened just days after authorities in Washington state opened an investigation following allegations that Jennifer Hart’s children were being neglected.

This morning’s top headlines: Wednesday, Jan. 4

The Mega Millions jackpot increased to an estimated $940 million after another drawing resulted in plenty of losers but not a single grand prize winner. The numbers drawn late Tuesday were: 25, 29, 33, 41, 44 and gold Mega Ball 18. The next drawing is scheduled to be held Friday night. The new $940 million jackpot is for a winner who chooses to be paid through an annuity over 29 years. Nearly all winners opt for a cash payout, which for Friday night’s drawing would be an estimated $483.5 million. The lack of a winner Tuesday means there have been 23 straight drawings without anyone taking the top prize. The new jackpot will remain the sixth-largest jackpot in U.S. history.

House Republicans are plowing through the second day of the new Congress, with no clear off-ramp from their political chaos over electing a new speaker. Seeing no easy solution, they adjourned late Wednesday afternoon until evening. Republican leader Kevin McCarthy failed anew to win the House speakership in three votes, faring no better than he had in the same number of votes on Tuesday when 20 fellow Republicans rejected his bid. Former President Donald Trump vigorously renewed his support for McCarthy, but it made no difference. And an outspoken conservative Republican said Trump should actually tell McCarthy to drop out. The chamber’s most conservative members believe McCarthy is neither conservative enough nor tough enough to battle Democrats.

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Tech companies of all sizes are showing off their latest products at CES, formerly known as the Consumer Electronics show. The show is getting back to normal after going virtual in 2021 and experiencing a significant drop in 2022 attendance because of the pandemic. Exhibitors range from big names including Sony and LG to tiny startups. You might see the next big thing or something that will never make it past the prototype stage. Highlights of a media preview included an AI-connected bird feeder, electric inline skates and temporary digital tattoos.

A Missouri inmate has been put to death for a 2003 killing, in what is believed to be the first execution of a transgender woman in the U.S. Amber McLaughlin was put to death Tuesday night, hours after Republican Gov. Mike Parson declined a clemency request. She was convicted of killing a former girlfriend in suburban St. Louis. A database on the website for the anti-execution Death Penalty Information Center shows that 1,558 people have been executed since the death penalty was reinstated in the mid-1970s. All but 17 of those put to death were men. The center says there are no known previous cases of an openly transgender inmate being executed.

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