A Sonora area doctor admitted to crossing double-yellow lines on La Grange Road to pass two vehicles in front of him just prior to an accident that killed three people and injured three more, a California Highway Patrol investigator testified Friday afternoon.
CHP investigator Jason Austin testified about an interview he had with Dr. Danny Anderson in early December, during which the doctor seemed calm and denied responsibility, but when Austin implied Anderson may have been at fault, the doctor was “visibly shaking” and “bouncing his legs.”
Anderson and his wife, Diane, are charged with multiple felonies in connection with the Oct. 21, 2016 collision. The CHP has said Trista Hoffman, 16, driving a Lexus SUV southbound on La Grange Road, swerved to avoid a head-on collision with a white Acura MDX that had crossed the double yellow lines to pass Dorothy Eisemann, 66, in a Toyota Camry.
Hoffman, her mother and passenger Tina Hoffman, 51, and Rheinholt Eisemann, 72, Dorothy Eisemann’s husband and passenger, were pronounced dead at the scene.
Dorothy Eisemann sustained minor injuries and two passengers in the Hoffman vehicle, Dillon Hoffman, 17, and Annie Johnson, 16, sustained major injuries.
On Friday, as with all days the Andersons have been in court, the courtroom was full of Anderson friends, many of whom seemed disgruntled about the testimony of four prosecution witnesses during the third day of the preliminary hearing.
The Andersons smiled, laughed and received compassionate gestures from friends and family.
Near the start of the hearing, Tuolumne County Sheriff Jim Mele strode through the courtroom, patted Danny Anderson on the shoulder and exchanged eye-contact before taking a seat in the back. Later, Mele took the bailiff’s seat, but left just before the midway break.
The Andersons whispered with one another often and conferred with their legal team.
Austin testified that Anderson told him he saw the accident in his rearview mirror and that he saw the Lexus coming toward him, but the car was “quite a ways ahead of him.”
Anderson speculated that the Lexus driver must have been distracted or possibly that the accident had been caused by another vehicle that had “peeked out to pass.”
Anderson said he knew the CHP was looking for a white Acura MDX, but ignored it because he didn’t believe he was involved with the accident.
Surveillance footage from the Houseboat Mini Mart, played in court Friday, showed an unidentified gray van driving northbound on La Grange Road, followed by the Eismann Camry, and then, closely behind, a 2015 Acura MDX.
Joel Zertuche, who was driving behind all of those cars, resumed his testimony from last Friday. He stood close to the video monitor and said, “As soon as I could see past that little hill, whatever that was, I saw what I saw.”
The image of the Houseboat Mini-Mart surveillance footage remained frozen on a frame of Zertuche’s blue Subaru rounding a curve past the intersection of Bonds Flat Road.
During cross examination from the Andersons’ attorney, Zertuche seemed visibly distraught by what he saw that day.
The soft-spoken Zertuche raised his voice to defense attorney Tom Johnson during questioning as to whether the surveillance footage had “refreshed his recollection” or supplanted his memory with additional detail.
“I’m testifying, sir, to what is ingrained in my memory!” Zertuche said.
The footage was again played during the testimony of District Attorney Chief Investigator Jeff Snyder, who compared the footage to aerial and street-view Google Maps images to reconstruct the distances and timing on the surveillance footage with the accident site.
In his methodology, he explained, he had used a utility pole and a 55 mph hour sign to set the approximate location of the collision as .23 miles from the intersection with Bonds Flat Road.
An 11 second gap between the white vehicle in front of Zertuche’s Subaru and the gray van meant that only the Acura MDX could have been the vehicle Zertuche saw cross the double yellow lines, he said.
“Then why not find that driver?” Johnson asked, placing emphasis on each of the words.
Snyder said he had not put a lot of time into locating the driver or identifying the owner of the vehicle.
Johnson, exasperated, then said to Judge Kevin Seibert, “it goes to his bias in the investigation, your honor.”
Snyder said he tried to find the gray van, which had a matching registration to an owner in Jupiter. He had spent multiple days in the area in the pouring rain, but was unable to access a dirt road leading to the listed address.
CHP officer Steve Griefer testified about a supplemental report detailing his interaction with Danny and Diane Anderson at the accident scene, which he wrote written at the suggestion of an unidentified CHP officer on Feb. 16, 2017.
Griefer said Diane Anderson had been aimlessly “lethargic walking” from right to left at the scene and had a “thousand yard stare” on her face.
“I thought she was in a state of shock from the severity of the traffic collision,” he said, indicating that he had grabbed her by the arm to stabilize her.
Though she had provided him with her name and information, he said, because she said she was not involved in the accident, he did not press her for more information.
During Snyder’s testimony, Johnson repeatedly referred to Anderson as the “target” of the CHP investigation.
Johnson and Diane Anderson’s lawyer Kirk McAllister also took particular interest in what prompted the creation of the supplementary report about four months after the accident, and pressed Griefer on multiple occasions to recall who had asked him to prepare the report.
He said he couldn’t remember.
The hearing will resume on at 2 p.m. Tuesday.
Danny Anderson faces three felony counts of vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence with enhancement charges of fleeing the scene, one count of hit and run resulting in death or serious injury of six people, one count of reckless driving causing specific injury or death for the three fatalities, and misdemeanors destroying or concealing evidence and obstructing a police investigation.
Diane Anderson faces one count of felony hit and run resulting in death or serious injury of the six involved parties, accessory after the fact to the vehicular manslaughter charge, and misdemeanor charges of destroying or concealing evidence and obstructing an investigation.