A Tuolumne County Superior Court judge denied a motion to reinstate bail for Dr. Danny Anderson on Monday and postponed Anderson’s sentencing hearing to Dec. 21 in anticipation of a defense motion for a new trial.
Anderson has been held in the Tuolumne County Jail since Sept. 7 after being convicted of three counts of vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence, reckless driving, hit and run, and the misdemeanor charge of obstructing a police investigation by a jury on July 25 for his role in causing an Oct. 21, 2016 triple-fatal accident on J-59.
Judge Donald Segerstrom said that despite Anderson’s previously consistent and timely appearances in court, the possibility of a long-term prison sentence reduced the possibility that he would attend the sentencing hearing.
“He could have easily decided that a life in exile was better than a prison commitment,” Segerstrom said.
And after the release of a probation report, which recommended the maximum sentence of 10 years and four months in state prison, the “theoretical possibility in the defendant’s mind to a prison commitment turned into a very real possibility,” Segerstrom added.
Anderson arrived in court Monday in a black-and-white striped Tuolumne County Jail jumpsuit and was handcuffed at the wrists and ankles.
As he approached the upstairs doorway to Department 1 at the Tuolumne County Superior Court, he smiled at about two dozen family members and friends who attended the hearing to support him.
Anderson was momentarily reprimanded by a Tuolumne County Sheriff’s Office deputy when Anderson appeared to respond to some of the questions from the crowd.
“That means you too, Mr. Anderson. You don’t talk to them,” the deputy said.
Anderson made no public statements during the hearing. He leaned toward the ear of his attorney Roger Nuttall, of Fresno, a few times and whispered.
Nuttall’s practice, Nuttall, Coleman & Drandell, was hired by Anderson in August following his conviction. Danny Anderson’s trial lawyer, Tom Johnson, of Sacramento, transferred representation of Anderson to lawyer Mark Coleman, of Fresno, at the previous hearing on Sept. 7.
During the hearing, Nuttall argued that Anderson was receiving “cruel and unusual punishment” at the Tuolumne County Jail, and his release until the sentencing hearing would be a “more humane alternative.”
“Basically, the idea that Dr. Anderson would not appear is not borne out simply by the insinuation that because probation recommended an aggravated sentence it would cause him a failure to appear,” he said.
After the hearing, Nuttall said Anderson was “infirm” after being held in the Tuolumne County Jail since September.
“There’s no need for him to be there,” he said. “He’s just not well. He looks like a sick man.”
Tuolumne County District Attorney Laura Krieg argued against the motion, and said Anderson had “no absolute right to bail.”
One of the main reasons Segerstrom decided to keep Anderson in custody — and one crucial thing that was not included in the defense motion to reinstate bail — were the rights of the victims to a conclusion in the case, Segerstrom said.
Though a delay was expected after the appointment of Nuttall’s firm, it had still been more than two years since the fatal accident, he said.
“It’s hard to call that a speedy disposition of the case, in any circumstances,” Segerstrom said.
During the accident on Oct. 21, 2016, Anderson was driving his white Acura MDX northbound on J-59, north of Bonds Flat Road, when he crossed over the double-yellow lines into the southbound lane to pass a car. The illegal maneuver caused a head-on collision between a 2002 Lexus RX300 driving southbound on J-59, and a northbound 2009 Toyota Camry that Anderson passed.
The collision resulted in the death of Tina Hoffman, 51, and her daughter, Trista Hoffman, 16, in the Lexus, and Reinholt Eismann, 72, in the Camry. Lexus passengers Dillon Hoffman, 17, sustained two broken legs, and Annie Johnson, 16, sustained brain hemorrhages. Camry driver Dorothy Eismann, 66, sustained minor injuries.
Anderson was acquitted of fleeing the scene and of a misdemeanor charge of concealing evidence.
Family members of the victims attended the hearing and sat behind Krieg. None of the three surviving victims attended.
Segerstrom said he also weighed factors in his decision, which included Anderson’s age and state of mind, public safety, and an “untrue statement” Anderson made to California Highway Patrol investigators at the accident scene denying any involvement in the collision.
There was a “palpable reason why the court should look with some skepticism” at Anderson’s commitment to attend the sentencing hearing following that statement, Segerstrom said.
“Reminding defendant at time of sentencing, the court was taking multiple things into consideration,” he said. “But for the fact that Mr. Nuttall’s firm entered into the case, he should have expected to be sentenced that day.”
Anderson’s sentencing hearing was postponed to Nov. 30 during the Sept. 7 hearing, but that hearing was vacated and replaced with Dec. 21 at 1:30 p.m. in Department 1.
Segerstrom allowed a defense motion for a continuance of the sentencing hearing due to the postponed delivery of trial transcripts to the new defense counsel.
Nuttall said he received the 1,800 page transcript on Oct. 27, but the original sentencing date was determined based on the assumption that they would be delivered in the beginning of October.
“We’re doing a lot of work on this,” Nuttall said during the hearing.
Following the hearing, Nuttall said he planned to file a motion for a new hearing based on Anderson’s previous lawyer’s failure to explore the cause of the accident.
“I think there exists issues attendant to causation of the accident,” Nuttall said. “From what I do know about the trial, the defense did not adequately dispute causation. We believe there was a good deal more available.”
The new sentencing hearing on Dec. 21 was expected to last about four hours and would include victim impact statements, Segerstrom said.
Tuolumne County Chief Probation Officer Linda Downey said previously that the probation report is not available as a public document until 60 days after Danny Anderson is sentenced.
Segerstrom is not bound to adhere to the probation department’s recommendation for a 10 year and four month sentence in state prison.
Anderson’s wife, Diane Anderson, was present for the hearing on Monday afternoon.
Diane Anderson, who is was charged with 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, was originally scheduled for a motion hearing on Nov. 6, and with a trial date set for Dec. 5.
The Nov. 6 motion hearing no longer appeared on the Tuolumne County Superior Court master schedule as of Monday afternoon.
According to an employee of the Tuolumne County Superior Court, Diane Anderson had a continuance motion hearing on Sept. 10. Diane Anderson is also scheduled for a trial readiness conference on Jan. 14, 2019 and a jury trial on Feb. 6, 2019.
Krieg and Diane Anderson’s lawyer, Kirk McAllister of Modesto, could not be reached for comment Monday afternoon.
Diane Anderson has pleaded not guilty to the charges.