A Tuolumne County Superior Court judge denied a motion to dismiss the trials of a Sonora area doctor accused of causing a triple-fatal La Grange Road collision in October 2016, and for his wife, who is accused as an accessory, on Tuesday.
Defense counsel for Danny Anderson and his wife, Diane Anderson, had stipulated in the dismissal motion that their clients had been denied an “essential right” to cross-examine California Highway Patrol - Sonora area Officer Joelle McChesney at the preliminary hearing on her no contest plea of three counts of misdemeanor accessing a computer to alter, destroy or use data for a criminal purpose, following an arrest in Yolo County while she was stationed at the CHP Academy in West Sacramento in 2008.
Diane Anderson’s attorney Kirk McAllister, who argued the motion for both parties, said the evidence, although also unknown to the District Attorney’s office at the time of the preliminary hearing, could have damaged McChesney’s credibility as a witness.
“The issue isn’t what might happen at trial, it’s the credibility of the preliminary hearing,” he said.
Describing the circumstances of the Yolo County cases as “lone, vengeful activities,” McAllister added,” there’s no way to whitewash this kind of conduct.”
McChesney was the first responding CHP officer to the accident scene on Oct. 21, 2016, where a head on collision between a 2009 Toyota Camry and a 2002 Lexus RX300 on J-59 near Bonds Flat Road resulted in the death of Tina Hoffman, 51, Trista Hoffman, 16, and Reinholt Eismann, 72. Dillon Hoffman, 17, sustained two broken legs. Annie Johnson, 16, sustained brain hemorrhages. Dorothy Eismann, 66, sustained minor injuries.
The prosecution has alleged that Danny Anderson, driving in an Acura MDX, crossed the double yellow lines and caused the accident.
Throughout the hearing, Danny Anderson took notes on a pad of paper. Diane Anderson, sitting to the right of McAllister, occasionally rested her chin on a closed fist and arched her head to glance at her attorney.
Judge Donald Segerstrom questioned the defense’s assertion that dismissal of the cases would be the proper recourse for their inability to question McChesney about the arrest during the preliminary hearing.
“That sanction is the ultimate sanction,” he said, and noted that it was reserved for the most “egregious” circumstances.
During the announcement of his decision, Segerstrom acknowledged the defense’s right to cross-examine McChesney about issues related to her credibility, but also noted that the District Attorney’s Office had no intention of withholding information from the defense.
There were other “remedies the court could impose” such as impeaching her testimony during the trial or recalling the case back to a preliminary hearing, he said, but noted that he was “not convinced” that if the information was included in the preliminary hearing, the result would have been different.
During her arguments, District Attorney Laura Krieg echoed that sentiment and noted that multiple other CHP officers and a citizen witness who saw the accident had also testified during the preliminary hearing.
“I don’t think the court should grant this motion. Even without McChesney’s testimony, there was enough evidence for probable cause,” she said.’
Krieg added that the incident from 10 years ago did not assert evidence McChesney had done anything illegal or unethical related to the Anderson case.
Prior to the ruling on the dismissal motion, Segerstrom requested counsel to meet for an in-chambers discussion. Krieg, McAllister, Danny Anderson’s attorney Tom Johnson, Assistant District Attorney Eric Hovatter, and Deputy Attorney General William McMahon all exited the courtroom.
The meeting took about 30 minutes, and upon their return, Segerstrom noted that the meeting had covered a “procedural matter.”
Segerstrom added that Johnson had to leave the court, and continued a hearing for additional motions to be heard at 1:30 p.m. Thursday in Department 1.
Before Johnson’s departure, Segerstrom granted a request to seal the defense’s trial brief.
Segerstrom additionally denied three aspects of a discovery motion related to the McChesney arrest, and noted that an order made in the previous hearing — to release the addresses of seven CHP officers, four CHP employees, a Rockland Police Department officer, and a civilian woman so that they may be contacted or subpoenaed — covered those requests.
Segerstrom granted a discovery request for records made by two CHP officers that wrote supplemental reports to McChesney’s accident report and noted there “may be very well something to impeach” their testimony in them.
McAllister alleged that someone may have asked the officers to to fill out the reports, indicating a bias against his client.
“I’m not required to believe everything I hear on the stand,” he said, after Krieg noted that a CHP officer said he was not directed to complete the report during the preliminary hearing.
McAllister’s discovery request was for only a single day of the reports made by the CHP officers.
Segerstrom scheduled a trial readiness conference for June 11 at 8:30 a.m. in Department 1 to hear additional motions in limine from McAllister and to conduct an in camera review of the reports.
A representative of Memorial Medical Center in Modesto, Traci Pierce, also appeared in court to provide medical injury records of Annie Johnson and Dorothy Eismann. Segerstrom also issued a court order to compel the release of medical records related to Dillon Hoffman.
At the previous hearing, Segerstrom had determined that the Andersons would have separate trials, due to a statement made to CHP Officer Jason Austin in December 2016 by Danny Anderson.
On Sept. 29, 2017, Austin testified during the Anderson’s joint preliminary hearing that Danny Anderson admitted to crossing the double-yellow lines on La Grange Road to pass two vehicles in front of him and saw the accident occur behind him.
Segerstrom ruled that the statement would infringe on Diane Anderson’s right to a fair trial since it did not mention her.
Austin was present at the hearing on Tuesday but left part way through the proceedings.
Danny Anderson has been charged on suspicion of 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.
Both have pleaded not guilty to all charges.
A trial date of June 20 has been set.