Rebecca Grossman, 58, could face 34 years to life in prison if convicted
Rebecca Grossman, a prominent California socialite, will stand trial for murder in connection to an alleged hit-and-run the philanthropist was involved in that left two young brothers dead, a judge ruled.
Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Shellie Samuels determined on Thursday that there was sufficient evidence for Ms Grossman, 58, a co-founder of the Grossman Burn Foundation, to be tried on two counts of murder, two counts of vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence and one count of hit-and-run driving resulting in death.
The charges stem from a 29 September 2020 crash at an intersection in Westlake Village, near Los Angeles, where Ms Grossman was allegedly engaged in a street-race in a residential neighbourhood with former Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Scott Erickson when she struck the two boys, at speeds of up to 70mph, the court heard.
Investigators said during the five-day preliminary hearings that the socialite’s Mercedes-Benz SUV fatally struck 11-year-old Mark Iskander and his 8-year-old brother Jacob in a crosswalk, with her car reportedly continuing to carry the younger brother a considerable distance after being hit before coming to a complete stop, the boys’ mother, Nancy, testified in the initial hearings.
After a tearful and difficult pre-trial, during which Ms Iskander provided devastating details of the terrifying moments before her two sons were declared dead, Judge Samuels determined that the defence attorney’s argument that Ms Grossman was rushing home was not accurate.
“The defendant was not rushing to get home; she was playing a high-speed game of chicken with Mr [Scott] Erickson,” Judge Samuels said, according to The Los Angeles Times. “I believe the defendant went well beyond gross negligence.”
The crux of the judge’s ruling for the 58-year-old to stand trial for the murder of the two brothers came from detailed testimonies about the speed her car was travelling at in a residential area, where the posted limit was 45-mph.
Data extracted from her Mercedes SUV revealed that she had hit 81mph just 1.5 seconds before the fatal crash.
Sheriff’s Deputy Robert Apodaca, a traffic crash specialist, provided a testimony in the preliminary hearings to state that he calculated the socialite’s SUV to be travelling at 71.7mph when she first hit the boys, which was a slight adjustment from the 81mph speed she was tearing through the neighbourhood at before approaching the crosswalk.
“This isn’t a case of thoughtlessness, but selfishness,” Deputy District Attorney Ryan Gould, the Iskander family’s attorney, said during last week’s preliminary hearing. “How could she not know driving at 81-mph … was extremely dangerous?”
During last week’s hearings, Ms Iskander provided a harrowing account of what she witnessed during that fatal crash in the fall of 2020, during which she said the pair of SUVs “were zigzagging with each other as if they were playing or racing”.
“They didn’t stop before the intersection. They didn’t stop at the intersection. They didn’t stop when an 11-year-old was on the hood of the car … Nobody stopped,” the disturbed mother recounted in a tearful account.
For Ms Grossman to receive a second-degree murder conviction, the Iskander’s attorney, Mr Gould, has to prove that the 58-year-old acted with malice and knew that driving more than 70-mph in a residential area was threat to human life.
Speaking outside the courtroom on Wednesday, before the judge had decided that Ms Grossman would stand trial, Ms Iskander told reporters how the pain from the 2020 crash that robbed her of two of her four children’s lives still haunts her and that she and her family “cry every day” remembering the tragic incident.
“We’re hoping that no other family can go through this tragedy,” she told ABC7 News. outside the courthouse Wednesday. “We want people who make choices like that to think twice before they get behind the wheel.”
On Thursday, following the judge’s ruling, she and her husband, Karim, told reporters they felt that the justice system was working and were appreciative that Judge Samuels had afforded them the chance to have the case go to trial.
“We’re thankful to judge Samuels. We think the whole justice system, they looked at the facts and they made the right decision. Nothing will bring Mark and Jacob back and the pain in my heart will remain, but we are happy with the justice we received today,” said Ms Iskander to ABC 7 News.
Ms Grossman has pleaded not guilty to all charges and remains free on a $2m bail.
If convicted, she faces 34 years to life in prison. She is set to return to court on 20 May and for the first time she was granted permission by the judge to drive again, a privilege she has not had for well over a year.
In a statement released by the 58-year-old’s defence team on Thursday, they asked the “public to keep an open mind about this tragedy”.
“As a mother and a human being, Rebecca Grossman is devastated and consumed with grief,” the defendant’s attorneys said. “A fatal traffic collision was the last thing she wanted, expected, or could have foreseen that night. Coming around a blind curve in the dark and approaching an intersection, she did not see pedestrians.”
Her defence attorneys also added that they are preparing to file a motion to challenge the murder charges when the case goes to trial.