Father pleads 'not guilty' in crash that killed daughters

Arvind Tandel faces vehicular manslaughter charges for Palo Alto accident linked to sleep deprivation

The San Bruno father who crashed his SUV on Nov. 23, 2012, killing two of his daughters, pleaded not guilty in Santa Clara County Superior Court on Friday, Sept. 6.

Arvind Tandel, 48, was driving home from a Black Friday all-night shopping trip with his 34-year-old wife and four daughters, ages 12 to 24, when his Lexus SUV swerved into the right-hand shoulder of U.S. Highway 101 in Palo Alto.

Tandel's vehicle struck a California Highway Patrol vehicle and rolled several times on the Embarcadero Road off-ramp at 6:49 a.m. The accident severely injured a CHP officer and killed two of Tandel's daughters. Nisha Tandel, 24, was pronounced dead at the scene. Her sister, Sheetal Tandel, 20, died that night at Stanford Hospital, according to the CHP.

The Santa Clara County District Attorney's Office had charged Tandel with two counts of misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter without gross negligence on Aug. 22, citing his alleged wrongful decisions and the potential danger to the public as reasons for prosecuting the grieving father.

Tandel was driving north from Gilroy after having only three hours of sleep in a 24-hour period, said Cindy Hendrickson, supervising deputy district attorney.

The four daughters were crowded into a back seat fitted for only three. The two who died were not wearing seat belts and were thrown from the vehicle. A seat in the third row was folded down to make room for the family's purchases, Hendrickson said.

The CHP officer was in his cruiser on the shoulder assisting two motorists attempting to change a tire on their truck. The motorists had set out three emergency triangles, and the officer's car was flashing a left-directional arrow directing drivers to move left, Hendrickson said.

The SUV struck the patrol car's left rear, sending it into one of the two stranded motorists and severely injuring the officer. Tandel's wife, Yogita Tandel, sustained major injuries but survived. The 12-year-old daughter sustained moderate injuries, and the 22-year-old daughter, Payal Tandel, was also taken to the hospital. Arvind Tandel suffered major injuries, according to the CHP.

"These dangerous conditions led to an enormous tragedy that could have been even worse. This was a preventable tragedy. The defendant is not the first person to drive while extremely sleepy nor the first person to drive with unbelted passengers. Yet this case shows in tragic detail the consequences that can flow from such conduct.

"It should serve as a reminder to us all about the need for vigilance in adhering to safety rules. This is why the district attorney's office decided that charges were warranted in this case despite the defendant's extreme personal loss," Hendrickson said when announcing the charges last month.

Considering Tandel's personal losses, the DA's office will not seek jail time or probably even community service, which are typical punishments for this type of offense, Hendrickson said. But he could face restrictions on his driver's license based on Department of Motor Vehicles rules, which could mean a suspension for up to 1.5 years.

Tandel's private attorney, Dan Barton, declined to comment on the case Friday. But in August he said his client is devastated by the death of his daughters and injury to his wife and other children.

"It's really a tragedy that they are deciding to file criminal charges. He's certainly a man who is suffering or grieving in a very painful manner. I think it's unnecessary. The mistake he made is a very ordinary mistake and one that any driver can relate to. Nothing that happens is going to be worse than what has happened to him," he said.

Tandel will return to court on Oct. 16.

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Like this comment
Posted by Forgiveness
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 6, 2013 at 6:03 pm

"Nothing that happens is going to be worse than what has happened to him," he said."

I agree.

Lots of bad decisions all around. People should never assume that falling asleep can't happen to them. They should always wear seatbelts! They should move off the roadway completely, not just on the shoulder, to change a tire, if at all possible. Local businesses encouraging this kind of sleep-deprived driving with their ridiculous Black Friday arms race should call a cease fire - Thanksgiving is already the most dangerous driving holiday.

Bad decisions ended in tragedy. A whole family will be trying to overcome this for the rest of their lives. I don't think there's any justice or purpose served in making it so the father cannot help his family with their medical or by getting to work, it will only perpetuate the tragedy in the whole family's life.

No one can take it back, or change it, though I don't doubt that father will live every day for the rest of his life wishing he could. His story is already a cautionary tale of the dangers of falling asleep at the wheel and sleep-depreived driving.

I hope our judges have a place for compassion and forgiveness.

Like this comment
Posted by Alphonso
a resident of Los Altos Hills
on Sep 8, 2013 at 9:17 am

Alphonso is a registered user.

This is why the DA's organization needs to be right sized. There is little benefit having an office large enough to prosecute just to prosecute. They claim this is not meant to "send a message" - how about considering justice?

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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