An audio recording of Danny Anderson blared across a courtroom in the Tuolumne County Superior Court Thursday.
“I decided the car was not going to pull over, the lead car, so I passed them,” he said in the audio recording.
The 20-minute interview was recorded by California Highway Patrol Officer Jason Austin and a Tuolumne County District Attorney investigator on Dec. 6, 2016.
Anderson, a Sonora-area doctor accused of causing the Oct. 21, 2016, triple fatal accident by crossing over the double-yellow line, alternated between uncomfortable shuffles in his seat and a stoic gaze on a transcript laid in front of him.
“I was by them. As we went further I looked into my rearview mirror,” he continued.
He watched an “out of control” vehicle “go across” the southbound lane while he was a quarter to a half mile away, he said.
There was a flash of white light, a “speck” in his rearview mirror, and he said he returned to administer aid.
“To me it seemed like whatever happened, happened after,” he said. “I really don’t think I was the cause of the accident.”
Austin and the investigator continued to press him for more answers.
“What made you look back?” asked Austin. The investigator asked him whether he ever considered whether he could have caused the accident.
“You got me thinking,” Anderson said. “I’ve gone over it several times in my head, but I really don’t.”
District Attorney Laura Krieg asked Austin about Anderson’s demeanor during the interview, and Austin responded that he was “nervous, bouncing his knees up and down as he was talking, visibly shaking his hands, moving around in his seat a lot.”
He asked at least twice how long the investigation would take.
“I’m a bit taken back that you’re here, because it hadn’t really been on my mind,” Anderson said.
Tom Johnson, Anderson’s attorney, accused Austin of coercing the statement from his client through a deliberate ruse and misrepresentation of the facts to elicit an admission of guilt.
“You hope after you lie about something,” he said, “you get truthful information.”
Austin responded that it was a law enforcement tactic of “exaggeration of facts” to discomfort suspects into voluntarily offering confessions.
“Obviously if you're investigating a crime and someone says they did it, it makes the investigation pretty easy,” he said.
A crowd of more than a dozen family and friends of Anderson, including his wife Diane Anderson, who is charged as an accessory, rustled in their seats.
Throughout the recording, he repeatedly pushed back against the allegations.
Speaking to the investigator, he said, “sounds like you’ve made up your mind,”
He offered alternate causes, and made frequent references to “distracted driving.”
“My thoughts were like I said, texting, or Snapchatting,” Anderson said in the recording.
“There’s a lot of ways people get distracted further, in my mind,” the investigator responded.
No cell phones were found in the cars, backpacks or at the accident scene, CHP officers testified.
But Krieg and the officers pushed back with their own allegations of dishonesty against Anderson. Due to a curve in the road and elevation change, Anderson’s claim that he could have seen the accident in his rearview mirror from a quarter to half mile away was impossible, Austin said.
The collision occurred when a 2009 Toyota Camry driven northbound by Dorothy Eismann, 68, hit head-on a 2002 Lexus RX300 driven southbound by Trista Hoffman, 16, on J-59 near Bonds Flat Road. Tina Hoffman, 51, Trista Hoffman, 16, and Reinholt Eismann, 72, a passenger in the Camry, died. Backseat passengers of the Lexus, Dillon Hoffman, 17, sustained two broken legs, and Annie Johnson, 16, sustained brain hemorrhages.
Dr. Rick Baier, a retired pathologist, testified that he performed autopsies on Oct. 25, 2016, on all of the people who died.
All three, he said, died as a result of traumatic injuries sustained during a motor vehicle accident.
The jury was shown the procession of northbound vehicles in video footage gathered by CHP Officer Michael McDaniel from the Houseboat Mini Mart in La Grange on J-59.
First a gray van passes (the driver of which was never identified by the CHP), then the white Camry driven by Dorothy Eismann, and then the Acura MDX driven by Danny Anderson.
McDaniel said his evaluation of the “larger” white vehicle following the Eismann Camry was determined to be an Acura MDX due to distinctive side windows and wheels, as well as detailing on the front bumper.
During another angle of video footage also culled from the Houseboat Mini Mart, Austin testified that two more vehicles, a white crossover SUV and a blue Subaru Outback driven by accident witness Joe Zertuche, passed approximately 16 seconds after the first appearance of the gray van.
Johnson previously doubted that Anderson’s Acura MDX caused the accident since the white crossover vehicle, next in the procession behind him, never was identified.
But later in the testimony, Austin said he was “confident” that the objective facts and witness statements placed the Acura MDX at fault.
“Based on what I saw in the video and by the statements, I’m confident the Acura MDX caused the accident,” he said. “By the time the accident was occuring, those vehicles would just be rounding the curve near Bonds Flat, so there was no way either of those vehicles was involved in the collision.”
In a dialogue that was sometimes contentious, Johnson took issue with the diction used by Austin during the preliminary hearing and his characterization of the Acura MDX as “most likely” being the cause of the accident.
Often restrained from more than one or two word answers, Austin said he misspoke.
CHP Officer Michael Huddleston testified that he recorded various measurements at the scene following the accident, and noted tire imprints from the Lexus on a gravel shoulder led to tire friction marks, which swerved across the southbound lane and merged into the northbound lane. “Distinct disturbed dirt” from three separate tire imprints indicated the wheels were skidding during the accident, he said.
The accident occured approximately 1,094 feet, or 0.2 miles, north of Bonds Flat Road.
Evidentiary photographs of a large Cal Fire vehicle, with “distinctive” mud and snow tires, did not disturb or delegitimize the accident scene, Huddleston said.
Sonora-area CHP Public Information Officer Faustino Pulido testified to a series of press releases to local and regional media about the basic details of the accident, and subsequent releases enlisting the public’s help for information about the gray van or the Acura MDX.
“We were asking the public to help identify the vehicles in the pictures taken from surveillance cameras near the collision site as well as a similar vehicle we believe was a suspect’s vehicle,” he said.
A photo of the Acura MDX was published on the back page of a Nov. 2, 2016, edition of The Union Democrat, he testified. Krieg offered as evidence information indicating that the Anderson home had a subscription for The Union Democrat, but during the interview with Austin, Anderson denied knowing the press releases were in reference to his vehicle.
“The main thing was they were looking for a vehicle that fled the scene. And I knew that wasn’t me,” Danny Anderson said during the recorded interview about the CHP press releases.
Judge Donald Segerstrom also allowed Johnson to ask CHP Officer Joelle McChesney, who testified on Wednesday, about felony identity theft and vandalism charges in Placer County from 2009, which he said cast her credibility into doubt.
“They tried to cast McChesney in the light of sympathy,” he said. “If you get charged with a felony, you lose your job.”
McChesney testified that she did not remember one of the felonies, to which Johnson responded, “are you saying you don’t remember this because you don’t want to admit the substance of the charges?”
Throughout the continued questioning of McChesney, Johnson sought to undermine her account as biased and untruthful based on perceived gaps in the development of the investigation.
During questioning with Krieg, McChesney acknowledged that some information would be withheld from her final report due to it being extraneous or irrelevant.
Johnson previously claimed that a 911 call made by a woman named Christina Hodge, where the woman claimed to see the “whole thing” and a female juvenile walking in the road, that a car passed vehicles traveling southbound.
Pressed by Krieg, McChesney said the call made no such claim about a vehicle passing while driving southbound.
Anderson has been charged with 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.
The trial will resume Friday morning at 8:30 a.m. in Department 1 of the Tuolumne County Superior Court on Yaney Street.