The driver of a Tesla that plunged over a cliff along the Pacific Coast Highway — injuring two children and a second adult — was arrested on suspicion of attempted murder and child abuse, the California Highway Patrol said Tuesday.
The highway patrol identified the driver as Dharmesh A. Patel from Pasadena, California, and said he will be booked into San Mateo County Jail after he’s released from the hospital.
Patel, 42, was in the vehicle with a 4-year-old boy, a 7-year-old girl, and a 41-year-old woman, according to court documents cited by CBS News. It was not immediately clear if they were all members of the same family.
“CHP investigators worked throughout the night interviewing witnesses and gathering evidence from the scene,” the highway patrol said in a statement. “Based on the evidence collected, investigators developed probable cause to believe this incident was an intentional act.”
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.
“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.”
The vehicle apparently flipped a few times before landing on its wheels, wedged against the cliff just feet from the surf, Brian Pottenger, a battalion chief with the agency, said at the scene.
On Monday afternoon, Cal Fire San Mateo’s Santa Cruz Unit shared a video letting drivers in the area know that the car went over the cliff and there would be delays along the coastal roadway.
The Tesla plummeted more than 250 feet from the highway and crashed into a rocky outcropping, officials said. Pottenger said the vehicle flipped several times before landing on its wheels, wedged against the cliff just feet from the surf.
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Neither CAL Fire nor the California Highway Patrol could immediately be reached for comment by USA TODAY Tuesday morning for an update on the victims’ conditions.
Crashes along Devil’s Slide, a steep, rocky and winding coastal area about 20 miles south of San Francisco between Pacifica and Montara, rarely end with survivors.
“We go there all the time for cars over the cliff and they never live. This was an absolute miracle,” Pottenger said.
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Watching through binoculars
Pottenger said witnesses called 911 at 10:15 a.m. and responding crews set up a rope system from the highway to lower firefighters down the cliff.
At the same time, he said, other firefighters watching the sedan through binoculars suddenly noticed movement – a sign that at least one person was still alive.
“Every one of us was shocked when we saw movement out of the front windshield,” Pottenger said.
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 two children out of the Tesla’s back window and brought them up the cliff in a basket using a rope. They were rushed to the hospital by ambulance to be treated for musculoskeletal injuries, officials reported.
Based on the California Highway Patrol’s initial investigation, troopers do not believe the Tesla was operating in Autopilot or Full Self-Driving mode at the time, Officer Mark Andrews said.
The road’s conditions were also not believed to be a factor in the crash. There was no guardrail at the spot where the sedan went off the cliff.
“The car traveled off the main portion of the roadway. For what reason, we don’t know,” Andrews said.
Contributing: Thao Nguyen, USA TODAY; The Associated Press
Natalie Neysa Alund covers trending news for USA TODAY. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter @nataliealund.