Moments before his mother’s white Lexus RX300 went airborne and slammed into the nose of an oncoming Toyota Camry on J-59 in La Grange three years ago, Dillon Hoffman watched a white SUV pass over the double yellow lines and hurtle toward them.
He covered his face with his hands, he testified on Thursday at the trial of Diane Anderson in San Joaquin County Superior Court in Stockton. There was only 15 to 20 feet between them and the oncoming vehicle, so he knew a collision was imminent.
“It was possibly one of the worst roller coaster rides of my life,” said Hoffman, now 20.
His mother Tina Hoffman screamed her daughter’s name before the Lexus careened into the Camry. As the Lexus tumbled and rolled, Dillon Hoffman watched his 51-year-old mother smash through the front window. When the car came to rest, he heard his sister, 16-year-old Trista Hoffman, groan. Beside him in the back seat, Trista’s friend Annie Johnson had a bloody head injury.
“It was hard to listen to, but I tried to stay composed for everyone,” he said.
While Dillon Hoffman spoke, he gestured with his hands and some of his family members in the front row held back tears.
Diane Anderson stared ahead. Anderson was a passenger in her husband Danny’s white Acura MDX. She is on trial for accessory after the fact to vehicular manslaughter, failure to perform a duty after an accident (also known as hit and run) and misdemeanors concealing evidence and obstructing an investigation.
The prosecution, led by Tuolumne County District Attorney Laura Krieg, must prove Danny Anderson was responsible for the death of Trista and Tina Hoffman, and Reinholt John Eisemann, 71, a passenger in the Camry, to prove Diane Anderson as an accessory.
Danny Anderson was sentenced to five years and four months in state prison in July 2018 after being convicted of three counts of vehicular manslaughter, hit and run and obstructing an investigation.
Accident survivor Dorothy Eisemann described a white vehicle that “whooshed” by the left side of her Camry just before the accident.
“I must tell you, there was no time to think. Other than I did not understand what was happening,” Dorothy Eisemann said.
Eisemann’s testimony was marked by some confusion because she couldn’t remember if the passing vehicle was behind her before the pass.
She later became frustrated with Diane Anderson’s attorney, Roger Nuttall of Fresno, who asked her repeatedly if she remembered describing the passing vehicle as a white truck on a phone call with California Highway Patrol Officer and lead investigator Joelle McChesney on Oct. 27.
“The words that you have used in that question are, how can I say this, I do not recall. I’m going to repeat it again,” she said. “It didn’t matter to me. It was not a priority to get so specific to analyze what happened, what didn’t happen.”
Tuolumne County Deputy District Attorney Harold Nutt, who conducted the questioning of Dorothy Eisemann, confirmed with her that Oct. 27 would have been the couple’s fourth wedding anniversary.
“I was drastically emotionally gutted, not just that day, but the entire week,” Dorothy Eisemann said.
McChesney, a 23-year CHP officer whose credibility has been challenged due to a misdemeanor conviction over 10 years ago, took the stand a few minutes before the noon lunch break.
She said she talked to the Andersons at the scene.
Danny Anderson told her they “come upon it” and Diane said “to the gist of, ‘it’s a little late,’” when McChesney offered Danny gloves to assist with medical aid, McChesney testified.
Diane Anderson’s attorney, Mark Coleman of Fresno, suggested the Andersons sold the car on Dec. 4, 2016 not under a pretense to conceal the vehicle, because CHP press releases and news articles indicated the Acura MDX being searched for “fled the scene.”
Coleman provided photos of Danny and Diane Anderson beside the body of Tina Hoffman at the crash site, which he said showed they administered aid.
Coleman said during a CHP interview, Diane Anderson was open about when and where she sold the vehicle.
Coleman sought to have McChesney explain why the investigation narrowed to the Andersons and suggested she ignored investigative leads with potential witnesses and involved vehicles shown in the trial evidence.
“There’s no documentation in your reports,” Coleman said.
He said a woman named Christina Hodge called the CHP to report that she saw the collision and noted McChesney called her only a single time and never reached her.
“If I documented everything I do related to a collision, the reports would be huge,” McChesney said.
Krieg later had McChesney read the CHP dispatch call log, which said Hodge believed she saw a female juvenile struck by a vehicle.
McChesney also acknowledged her previous misdemeanor convictions of three counts of unauthorized access of a computer device and vandalism and was not pressed by more details of the related incident by Coleman.
She told Coleman at the beginning of his questions after lunch that when she testified in the Danny Anderson proceedings, she had not notified the District Attorney’s Office of her conviction.
The jury reviewed a series of photographs of the accident scene, which included tire friction marks on the pavement and on the gravel shoulder purported to be from the Lexus and images of the totalled vehicles.
The Lexus came to rest on its side, down an embankment on the east shoulder and missing the front passenger door, below the Camry on the road, which was bashed in at the front.
Beside the Camry was scattered vehicle debris and stains from what appeared to be blood.
The jury also watched a short video surveillance clip from the Houseboat Mini Mart in La Grange, approximately a quarter mile from the crash site, which showed a procession of vehicles heading north on J-59.
The procession included a gray minivan which was not identified by investigators, followed by the Eisemann Camry and the Acura MDX.
McChesney said investigators narrowed the search for the owner of the MDX down to a list of seven or eight people after pulling all of the registered owners of those cars in Tuolumne, Stanislaus and Merced counties.
When she saw Danny Anderson’s name on the list, she was reminded of seeing him at the crash site and said “that’s my doctor,” she testified.
In Krieg’s opening statement, she described “big, solid, double yellow lines” which “send a clear message, it is not safe to pass anywhere on that road.”
While Krieg gave a summary of the Oct. 21, 2016 collision and the subsequent investigation, portrait photos of the mother-daughter victims, Tina Hoffman and Trista Hoffman, were shown to the jury.
Carolyn Case, Trista’s grandmother and Tina’s mother, put her hand to her face and walked out of the courtroom, returning minutes later after the photos were taken off a movie-sized projection screen.
Krieg said Diane Anderson was responsible for a “reprehensible” and “deliberate cover up” of her role in the accident.
“You will see her actions were criminal,” Krieg said. “Nothing, they said absolutely nothing.”
Krieg added, “There are no winners in this case. A guilty verdict doesn’t bring the dead back.”
Nuttall deferred his statement until the presentation of the defense.
Testimony will continue at 8:30 a.m. Friday.