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News / Nation & World

Memories of mayhem, graphic images in trial of socialite accused of running over 2 boys

By Richard Winton, Los Angeles Times
Published: January 31, 2024, 11:42am

The image of the crumpled form of 11-year-old Mark Iskander on the blacktop of Triunfo Canyon Road flashed on the courtroom television screen above witness Susan Manners, who testified that she captured it moments after she saw the boy struck by a vehicle.

“My Marky,” a sobbing Nancy Iskander cried out.

The sudden utterance by the child’s mother startled jurors listening to witness testimony Tuesday in the trial of Rebecca Grossman. The Hidden Hills socialite is charged with two counts of murder in the killing of Mark and his 8-year-old brother, Jacob, in a Westlake Village crosswalk.

Iskander, doubled over and weeping, dashed out of the Van Nuys courtroom.

Tuesday, the third day of the highly charged trial, featured testimony from witnesses who said they heard or saw the children being struck. No single witness said they saw Grossman’s Mercedes SUV hit both children. One witness testified to seeing the vehicle hit the younger boy, Jacob; another testified to seeing the SUV strike Mark.

Manners’ photo was the first jurors had seen of either boy at the scene of the Sept. 29, 2020, tragedy. It was followed by images of Mark’s broken skateboard in the roadway, a helmet and scattered debris.

Manners, of Westlake Village, testified that she was out for her regular five-mile walk when she saw a woman and three children “lined up like little ducks” at a crosswalk. To her horror, she said, she heard a train-like roar as vehicles approached the crossing, and she realized the worst was about to happen. She testified that she attempted to wave down the vehicles by stepping off the curb into the bike lane but was unsuccessful.

There were two impacts in the crosswalk, she said — one of which she heard, and the other she saw. Manners said she saw the older boy on the skateboard being struck by a vehicle, which she identified as the second vehicle through the crosswalk.

Los Angeles prosecutor Ryan Gould said in opening statements Friday that the evidence would show a Mercedes SUV driven by former Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Scott Erickson first passed through the crosswalk, avoiding the Iskanders, followed by Grossman, who fatally struck the brothers. Authorities allege she was driving as fast as 81 mph and traveled a quarter of a mile after slamming into the children before her vehicle shut down.

The second vehicle, Manners testified, struck Mark, whom she would later photograph lying on the ground. Under questioning, she said she saw the impact send the boy’s body into the air as high as the vehicle’s roof but did not see it land.

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. If convicted of all charges, she faces 34 years to life in prison.

Defense lawyers, led by prominent Houston attorney Tony Buzbee, have argued that Erickson, Grossman’s erstwhile boyfriend, is responsible for the fatalities. They maintain that his vehicle struck the boys first, then the 11-year-old’s body flew up before being struck by Grossman’s vehicle, causing front-end damage.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Jamie Castro showed Manners a defense-team animation depicting that scenario, and the witness called it incorrect.

Jurors on Monday heard Nancy Iskander recall how she pulled her 5-year-old son, Zachary, to safety before hearing a loud sound and seeing her older boys vanish. She said she then found Jacob unconscious and Mark with “every bone in his body” broken.

Witness Jake Sands testified on Tuesday he was a passenger in a vehicle on Triunfo Canyon Road when he saw a white Mercedes AMG SUV following a black Mercedes AMG SUV very closely while going “90 mph,” and then he saw the Iskander family in the crosswalk.

He testified he heard no sound when the black Mercedes passed through the crosswalk, but when the white Mercedes SUV came into the crosswalk, it hit one of the boys, and he heard the sound of a crash.

“I saw one of the boys go airborne,” Sands said. And then, he said, the body fell to the ground near the right curb. He later said the child was Jacob.

Sands said he saw the other boy, Mark, farther down the road near the median but did not see him hit by a vehicle. After the impact, he testified, the white Mercedes’ brake lights went on, but it did not stop.

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Authorities say the younger boy was thrown about 50 feet in the collision, and the older child was 254 feet from where he was struck — a distance a deputy who specializes in crash incidents previously testified was the farthest he had known a human to be tossed in a crash.

Under cross-examination by Buzbee, Sands acknowledged he “only saw the white Mercedes hit one kid.”

Buzbee asked if Sands could see if the person driving the white Mercedes was a woman, and he replied he could not as it was “almost dark” and the driver was going very fast.

Yasamin Eftekhari testified she was driving an SUV in which Sands was a passenger when she saw a black vehicle and a white vehicle speeding past her on the left.

“There was a family walking in the crosswalk, and two little boys got struck. I only noticed the first one,” she testified. “I saw the white vehicle go straight toward that one boy.” She later identified the child as 8-year-old Jacob.

Prosecutor Castro asked if she saw the black vehicle hit either of the children. Eftekhari replied she didn’t.

Prosecutors must prove Grossman acted with implied malice and showed reckless disregard for life. Although she is not charged with driving under the influence, they are accusing her of being impaired by alcohol and Valium.

Grossman and Erickson had earlier in the day been drinking cocktails at a nearby restaurant, Julio’s Agave Grill, witnesses testified Monday. The couple were joined by retired baseball player Royce Clayton, who testified Monday that Erickson drank two margaritas and Grossman, one.

Afterward, he said, they all agreed to meet at Grossman’s home and watch a presidential debate. He said Grossman did not seem to be impaired when she left the now-shuttered eatery.