Rebecca Grossman floored gas pedal, struck 2 boys at 'freeway speeds,' investigators say

VAN NUYS, CA-APRIL 25, 2022: Rebecca Grossman, co-founder of the Grossman Burn Foundation, leaves Van Nuys Courthouse during a break from her preliminary hearing. Grossman is charged with murder and other counts stemming from a crash in Westlake Village that left two young brothers dead. (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)
Rebecca Grossman is seen outside the Van Nuys Courthouse in 2022. (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

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.

Grossman tapped the brakes a second and a half before she slammed into Mark and Jacob Iskander, traveling 73 mph in a 45-mph zone, according to Michael Hale, an investigator with the Orange County district attorney's office who analyzes vehicular homicide data.

Using information from the "black box" inside Grossman's vehicle — an event data recorder that depicts information such as speed, brake usage and airbag deployment — Hale said the last five seconds of Grossman's travels the night of Sept. 29, 2020, were captured before a collision triggered her airbags. The "data is consistent with two strikes with small objects," he said.

Showing a chart of the data, Hale said the SUV's black box indicates that had Grossman been traveling the 45-mph speed limit, she would have driven 326 feet in five seconds, as opposed to the 559 feet she actually went. That timing, he said, would have allowed 11-year-old Mark and 8-year-old Jacob to make it safely across the intersection.

"Ultimately, had that vehicle been following the speed limit, there would have been no crash," he said.

Read more: Boy's body bore the imprint of Mercedes front grille, medical examiner says at Grossman trial

Prosecutors allege Grossman, 60, had been drinking at a nearby restaurant with her then-boyfriend, Scott Erickson, a former pitcher for Major League teams including the Dodgers, before the two raced back toward Grossman's lakeside home in separate vehicles — Grossman in a white Mercedes SUV and Erickson in a different, black Mercedes SUV model. Grossman was separated from her husband, Peter, at the time.

Two witnesses traveling in another vehicle testified during a preliminary hearing that they saw Erickson’s Mercedes speeding ahead of Grossman’s on the quiet street.

Tony Buzbee, Grossman's lead attorney, told jurors in opening statements that Erickson, now 56, struck both children first, throwing Jacob to the curb and Mark high into the air before he landed in the path of Grossman's SUV.

But during cross-examination Wednesday, Hale told Buzbee, "The crash point data ... shows she hit those children. There is data that supports two strikes."

Grossman 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.

Read more: Rebecca Grossman trial: Lawyer says police didn't check other car in crash that killed 2 brothers

Citing the vehicle data of Grossman's Mercedes prior to the collision, Hale said she only lightly tapped her brakes, for just a second, dropping her speed slightly before taking her foot off the gas.

Once the airbags were triggered, the Mercedes' fuel system was cut off to prevent a fire and the vehicle coasted to a stop, calling the manufacturer's emergency operator system. A sheriff's deputy previously testified he found Grossman and her disabled vehicle three-tenths of a mile from the crash scene.

Last week, a hospital technician testified that Grossman said in an emergency room after her arrest that she would have been home in her garage if the safety system had not disabled her vehicle.

Buzbee on Wednesday questioned the accuracy of the black box data, noting it showed the Mercedes traveled 42,249 miles in 4,461 minutes, meaning it would have an average speed of 568 mph.

Hale told jurors that while the five-second speed information collected by a car's event data recorder is regulated and required by federal law to be accurate, the specifics on distance traveled and time are not subject to the same requirements.

Hale said he believed the data error in this instance was an anomaly probably caused by the amount of time the vehicle had been driven before being reset at some point, adding that "that doesn't invalidate the rest of the data."

Read more: Rebecca Grossman was impaired before deadly crash, investigator testifies

Buzbee, however, continued to argue that Grossman's vehicle did not strike both boys. On Tuesday, he grilled Dr. Matthew Miller, a pathologist with the San Bernardino medical examiner's office who was a deputy L.A. County medical examiner at the time of the children's deaths. Miller acknowledged during cross-examination the “possibility” that the boys were killed by two separate cars, but he also testified that the injury patterns on Mark's body matched the grille of Grossman's car.

L.A. County Sheriff's Deputy Robert Apodaca also countered Buzbee's assertion that Grossman's vehicle did not deliver the fatal blows to the children.

"I don't see any direct damage to the top of the hood," he said, adding that Mark's injuries matched up with damage to the front of Grossman's vehicle.

Apodaca testified that Grossman's Mercedes was missing two emblems from its grill and hood, building on prior testimony that similar car parts were recovered at the scene of the crash.

Buzbee questioned another car part that was documented at the scene — a fog light — implying that it could not have come from Grossman's white Mercedes and instead was the same type of light that was on Erickson's black Mercedes.

And when the defense attorney asked Apodaca how debris showed up 50 feet away from the crosswalk, the deputy said research shows debris can be thrown 20 feet in lower-speed crashes, but "those kids were hit at freeway speeds so the debris is going to be a lot farther."

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.