Rebecca Grossman case: Opening statements more than 3 years after boys killed in Westlake Village

Saturday, January 27, 2024
Jury selection begins in trial of LA socialite accused in fatal crash
Jury selection began in the trial of the wealthy socialite accused of running over and killing two young brothers in Westlake Village in 2020.

VAN NUYS, LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- Prosecutors on Friday told jurors that Rebecca Grossman was speeding when she ran down two young brothers in a Westlake Village crosswalk, but the woman's attorneys insisted she wasn't the driver responsible for the deadly crash -- which they contend occurred outside a crosswalk.

Grossman, now 60, was charged in December 2020 with two felony counts each of murder and vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence, along with one felony count of hit-and-run driving resulting in death, in connection with the Sept. 29, 2020, deaths of 11-year-old Mark Iskander and his 8-year-old brother, Jacob.

Deputy District Attorney Ryan Gould told jurors that Grossman was speeding in a white Mercedes-Benz SUV on Triunfo Canyon Road and struck the two boys as they were crossing the street with their mother in a marked crosswalk.

One of Grossman's attorneys, Tony Buzbee, countered that the evidence would show that Grossman is "not guilty because she didn't do anything and someone else did."

The defense attorney acknowledged that no one saw a vehicle driven seconds ahead of Grossman by former Dodgers pitcher Scott Erickson -- described by the prosecutor as Grossman's boyfriend -- strike the children, but said the defense will prove that Erickson's vehicle hit the children first, and the victims "hit Mrs. Grossman's car" about three seconds after the initial collision.

Erickson was previously charged with misdemeanor reckless driving in a case that was separately filed, but that charge was dismissed after he completed a diversionary program.

In his opening statement, the prosecutor told jurors that a passenger in a car behind Grossman's vehicle saw the white Mercedes-Benz strike Jacob.

During the second day of Rebecca Grossman's preliminary hearing, witnesses recounted what they saw after the Westlake Village crash that killed two brothers.

"It is a well-marked crosswalk and this is where our worlds collide," Gould said, noting that Grossman and Erickson were in separate vehicles heading back to her house on the lake to watch the presidential debate that night.

"They didn't have a chance," the deputy district attorney said of the two boys.

The prosecutor alleged that Grossman was "flooring it to get herself up to 81 mph on a 45 mile-per-hour street" and driving just over 70 miles per hour at the time of impact. He said she wouldn't have hit the boys if she had been driving at the speed limit.

"She continues to go past ... and doesn't stop for over a third of a mile away. ... She never goes back to that crosswalk," Gould said.

The prosecutor noted that blood testing done on Grossman after the crash determined she had alcohol and Valium in her system, but she is not charged with driving under the influence. Jurors don't need to find her guilty of that in order to convict her of the charges, he said.

The defense attorney countered the prosecution's allegation that the defendant was speeding, saying that "Mrs. Grossman was going 52 miles per hour at best." He contended that the data used by the prosecution's expert from the vehicle's so-called black box was not reliable.

Buzbee maintained that Grossman didn't leave the scene and accused law enforcement of failing to adequately investigate the crash, saying it was "not the best investigation you've ever seen."

Buzbee insisted that a separate vehicle -- Erickson's -- went through the intersection 2 1/2 seconds before Grossman.

"We will show you that is the vehicle that hit the two children first," Buzbee said, adding that "multiple eyewitnesses either heard or saw two impacts," with some saying they occurred three seconds apart and others saying they happened five seconds apart.

Buzbee told jurors that debris collected at the scene proves that there were "at least two impacts, likely three," but he said investigators rushed to judgment to accuse Grossman of killing the boys, when in reality, "the car in front of her actually hit the children."

He said the evidence will show that the children were not in the crosswalk -- which he said was improperly marked -- when they were struck. He also denied contentions that Grossman left the scene, saying she was so close to her home that she could have gotten out of her car and walked home if she really intended to flee.

Former Major League Baseball pitcher Scott Erickson has been charged in connection with a fatal hit-and-run crash that killed two young brothers in Westlake Village.

Buzbee alleged that Erickson stopped up the road, hid in the bushes and watched after the collision.

He said the defense would ask the jury to "use your courage and find Mrs. Grossman not guilty."

Testimony is set to begin Monday in the Van Nuys courtroom, with the victims' mother, Nancy, expected to testify that day.

Sheriff's officials said after the crash that family members were crossing the three-way intersection -- which does not have a stoplight -- in the crosswalk when the mother heard a car speeding toward them and both parents reached out to protect two of their children, but the two boys were too far out in the intersection and were struck.

The older boy died at the scene and his 8-year-old sibling died at a hospital.

Grossman allegedly continued driving after striking the boys, eventually stopping about a quarter-mile away from the scene when her car engine stopped running, according to the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office.

In a conversation with an operator through a Mercedes-Benz service following the crash, Grossman said she didn't know if she had hit anyone and that she was driving when her airbag exploded.

"I don't know what I hit," she said in the recording when a 911 operator was patched in and asked if she had hit a person.

Grossman is free on $2 million bond.

She was ordered to stand trial in May 2022 by Superior Court Judge Shellie Samuels. Superior Court Judge Joseph Brandolino, who is presiding over the case, subsequently denied a defense motion to dismiss the murder charges.

The defendant -- who could face up to 34 years to life in prison if convicted as charged -- is the wife of Dr. Peter Grossman, who is the director of the Grossman Burn Centers and son of the center's late founder, A. Richard Grossman.

Rebecca and Peter Grossman were separated at the time of the crash, according to a statement by her husband posted on the website supporting her.

She is a co-founder of the Grossman Burn Foundation and a former publisher of Westlake Magazine.

Brandolino said at the start of the jury selection process that he expected the trial to last about six weeks.