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‘I wish I had not looked away’: Grossman’s texts show she was distracted before crash

Rebecca Grossman walks into court with her husband, Peter Grossman.
Rebecca Grossman walks into court Jan. 23 with husband Dr. Peter Grossman.
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)
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A text message written by Rebecca Grossman, who is on trial for the murder of two boys killed in a car crash, reveals how the Hidden Hills socialite briefly turned her head while driving, distracted by a woman wearing inline skates.

Prosecutors this week used Grossman’s own words to describe the Sept. 29, 2020, collision that killed 11-year-old Mark Iskander and his 8-year-old brother, Jacob.

“I do take accountability,” Grossman wrote in a June 2022 text message to a friend, Rose Wiltshire. “I turned my head to the right probably one or two seconds longer than I should have when I saw a woman crashing on rollerblades on the right side of the road.”

At the time of the crash, Nancy Iskander was wearing inline skates as she began to cross Triunfo Canyon Road at Saddle Mountain Drive in Westlake Village. Iskander said her youngest son, Zachary, was next to her on his scooter; older sons Mark, on a skateboard, and Jacob, wearing inline skates, were ahead in the marked crosswalk.

Iskander previously testified that she heard revving engines and looked up to see a black sport utility vehicle speeding toward the intersection. She grabbed Zachary, then 5, and pulled him to safety as the SUV barreled past.

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But another SUV — a white Mercedes — was following closely behind, Iskander said. That vehicle was driven by Grossman.

“I did not know it at the time but it was the mom,” Grossman said to Wiltshire, who testified Wednesday about the messages from her friend of 20 years. “This grabbed my attention as it probably would anyone else’s. I guess [I] turned my head over my shoulder because the airbag burst on the left side of my face and the lower bag fractured my foot. Yes. I wish I had not turned my head.”

Rebecca Grossman floored her high-powered Mercedes SUV on a quiet residential street, speeding up to 81 mph and barely braking before fatally striking two boys in a Westlake Village crosswalk, a veteran crash investigator testified at the L.A. socialite’s murder trial Wednesday.

Feb. 8, 2024

Grossman, 60, is charged with two counts of second-degree murder, two counts of vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence and one count of hit-and-run driving resulting in death in connection with the collision. The murder counts are somewhat unprecedented, as she was not charged with driving under the influence, typically used to prove gross negligence in vehicular fatalities.

Prosecutors, however, have argued that Grossman was impaired. She had been drinking cocktails with Scott Erickson, a former pitcher for the Los Angeles Dodgers, before the erstwhile lovers raced back from a restaurant in separate vehicles, heading to Grossman’s lakeside home. A breathalyzer test at the scene showed that Grossman had a blood alcohol level of about 0.075%; a blood test three hours later came back at 0.08%, California’s legal limit. Valium was also found in her system, two criminalists have testified.

But by Grossman’s own admission, she was distracted.

“I wasn’t texting or reaching for anything,” she told Wiltshire in another text. “I was surprised by the mom crashing on her rollerblades.”

Tony Buzbee, Grossman’s lead attorney, acknowledged that his client’s words revealed she was distracted — but not that she struck the boys.

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“That is exactly what happened, and that makes a lot of common sense,” Buzbee said. “If I see a woman falling on Rollerblades, I may tap my foot on the brake, right?”

A medical examiner testifies that the pattern on the back and right thigh of a boy killed in a Westlake crosswalk matched the design of the front grille of an SUV driven by a Hidden Hills woman.

Feb. 7, 2024

But Grossman told a different story when speaking with a Mercedes dispatcher and a 911 operator the night of the crash, saying she didn’t know what had happened, only that her airbag had exploded. Her vehicle had been disabled by a system override after her airbag deployed following a collision; she coasted to a stop about a third of a mile from the crash scene, where Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies found her alongside the SUV, which had visible front-end damage.

Grossman’s Mercedes SUV after the crash in 2020.
Grossman’s Mercedes SUV after the 2020 crash.
(Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department)

Earlier in the trial, Los Angeles County Deputy Dist. Atty. Ryan Gould played a tape of Grossman telling an operator: “I was driving down the road, all of a sudden, my bag exploded.” A 911 operator on the line with the Mercedes representative asked, “Did they hit a person? They said the two kids were hit on Rollerblades?” Grossman replied, “No.”

When Deputy Michael Kelley conducted a field sobriety test at the scene, Grossman repeatedly asked about the children, saying her husband — Dr. Peter Grossman, who runs the Grossman Burn Center — could help them.

The “black box” data from Grossman’s vehicle showed that she was speeding, at up to 81 mph, on the quiet residential street and barely braked before “two strikes with small objects,” according to testimony from a crash investigator.

But Buzbee has argued that Grossman’s vehicle was not the first to hit the brothers. He has repeatedly indicated that Erickson’s black Mercedes, which sped through the intersection ahead of Grossman’s, struck both children, throwing Jacob to the curb and Mark high into the air before he landed in the path of her SUV.

Defense attorneys for Rebecca Grossman are seeking to shift the blame for the deaths of two young boys to former Dodgers pitcher Scott Erickson.

Jan. 17, 2024

Jeffrey Muttart, a traffic accident reconstruction expert, testified Thursday that Erickson told an investigator “he did not hit anybody” but did see two boys in the crosswalk and a reflective scooter — which Zachary Iskander had been riding.

Erickson was charged with a misdemeanor count of reckless driving, which was dismissed after he made a public service announcement about the importance of safe driving.

But Buzbee has continued to cast blame for the deaths on Erickson. He previously alleged that a sheriff’s investigator never checked the retired World Series winner’s vehicle after the crash and took his word in a phone interview that he was driving his 2007 Mercedes SUV at the time. The defense attorney says Erickson was instead driving a 2016 Mercedes-AMG.

When Buzbee asked Muttart whether he was aware that Erickson was driving the newer vehicle, the expert said he was not.

Muttart testified that Grossman’s excessive speed led to the crash that killed the boys.

“It boils down to speed,” he said.

Grossman’s lead attorney has throughout the trial argued it was Erickson’s black SUV — not his client’s white Mercedes — that first struck the children.

Feb. 3, 2024

Showing Grossman’s mind-set is key to prosecutors’ efforts to prove that the crash amounts to second-degree murder. Deputy Dist. Atty. Jamie Castro previously argued that text messages Grossman sent showed she knew the potentially deadly consequences of speeding.

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Sheriff’s Deputy Julius Gomez testified that he had accessed her cellphone, and he showed jurors some of her messages. One was sent to a friend a month before the crash. In it, Grossman shared a story about young football players who lost control of a speeding car, crashed into a tree and burned to death.

On Thursday, jurors heard that Grossman had previously been ticketed for speeding. California Highway Patrol Officer Robert Leffler testified that on March 10, 2013, he stopped Grossman doing 92 mph on the 101 Freeway in Agoura Hills.

“She apologized; her husband was called into work, and she was dashing to get her children,” Leffler said. After writing the citation, Leffler said, he warned Grossman about the dangers of driving at such speeds, saying it can result in deaths. A “frustrated” Grossman, he said, told him she “hopes I don’t need the services of the burn center in the future.”

But Buzbee fired back, questioning Leffler’s seemingly perfect recall of a traffic stop from more than a decade ago, asking, “You just remembered that?”

The law enforcement officer said news accounts of Grossman’s case had triggered his memory, and he “immediately recognized the name” — recalling her Range Rover SUV, excessive speed and comment. He went through thousands of ticket stubs at his home and found hers, he said.

But under Buzbee’s cross-examination, he could not recall tickets he wrote before or after Grossman’s.

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