Danny Anderson denied in Superior Court Wednesday that passing two vehicles over double yellow lines on J-59 caused a triple-fatal collision on Oct. 21, 2016.
Testifying as a defense witness in the trial of his wife, Diane, he said, “I was relieved that we had made a safe pass.”
Danny Anderson, dressed in a gray suit and a white collared shirt, unbuttoned at the top, gave his most complete description of the collision since his arrest on triple-manslaughter charges in April 2017.
He recalled seeing “a flash go across the horizon” in his rearview mirror and waking his wife to tell her, “something bad happened, we have to go back.”
He and his wife were returning from watching the Los Angeles Dodgers play the Chicago Cubs in a home playoff game the night before. He felt “a bit fatigued at the end of the Grapevine” and Diane took the wheel for about 30 minutes before he resumed driving.
They stopped at a Taco Bell in Merced and he ate a burrito before heading north up G Street to Snelling, and then onto J-59 toward Tuolumne County.
Diane Anderson was playing on her iPad, he testified.
“She likes to be busy if we travel, if she’s not sleeping,” he said.
He acknowledged that he passed the cars and added that he regretted it. The latter statement earned an objection from Diane Anderson’s attorneys and was struck from the court record.
He denied seeing the collision except for the flash. He testified that it appeared a vehicle was 20 to 30 feet in the air a quarter mile behind him when looked in the rearview mirror.
“I was a doctor and I needed to go back to do whatever I could,” he testified.
In the next 45 minutes, Danny Anderson said he performed CPR on Tina Hoffman and placed an oxygen mask on Rheinholt Eisemann, both of whom died in the collision.
When he left the scene with Diane, he said he was directed by a CHP officer who saw his vehicle. He left the scene not knowing how the accident occurred, he testified.
“It was a pretty silent ride home,” he said.
Danny Anderson later noted that he did not contact the CHP about the search for a vehicle like his because he was under the impression they were searching for someone who fled the scene, which he believed he did not do.
Danny Anderson appeared without shackles and without a California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation escort on Wednesday. It was a marked contrast to Tuesday when he appeared in an orange jumpsuit and a yellow vest which read “hearing impaired.”
The jury has not been informed of Danny Anderson’s conviction or his current status. The prosecution must prove Danny Anderson committed a felony as a component of proving Diane Anderson is guilty as an accessory after the fact to vehicular manslaughter.
Tuolumne County District Attorney Laura Krieg told Judge Kevin Siebert she intends to present his conviction as a means of discrediting his testimony.
Siebert will decide if that will be allowed on Thursday morning.
Krieg was afforded about 20 minutes to cross-examine Danny Anderson before the end of the trial day and focused her questioning on statements he made to CHP investigators in December 2016 during the collision investigation.
Danny Anderson accused Krieg of misrepresenting his statements regarding his wife’s status or if he saw an oncoming southbound vehicle, though they appeared on their face to differ from his testimony on Wednesday.
In the interview, Danny Anderson said his wife did not see the collision because she was on an iPad, but on Wednesday he said she was “dozing.” He also testified to a southbound vehicle “across the landscape” but said in the interview he did not see anything.
Also because Diane Anderson’s attorney Roger Nuttall referred to him as “Dr. Anderson,” Krieg had him acknowledge that his medical license was suspended.
Roger Nuttall and his partner, Mark Coleman, manage a law practice in Fresno that is also representing Danny Anderson in the ongoing appeal of his conviction in the California Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.
Danny Anderson did not testify to seeing a southbound passing vehicle, a key defense strategy to shift the cause of the accident from him.
While outside the presence of the jury, attorneys and approximately 25 people in a ninth-floor courtroom of the San Joaquin County Superior Court in Stockton watched an animation of a southbound passing vehicle causing the collision.
The video showed a light-colored truck speed into the opposite lane around a light-colored sedan driven by defense witness Christina Hodge and a Lexus RX300 representing a vehicle driven by victims. The Lexus careened around, out of control, and crashed into an oncoming Camry as the truck sped away.
Under questioning from Nuttall, Hodge said she was driving south to her mom’s house in La Grange when she saw the collision in front of her.
Hodge, then an employee at the Inns of California in Sonora, said the SUV in front of her was “swaying,” which caused her concern for her safety. When the vehicle passed her and the SUV in the curve of J-59 before Don Pedro Road, “that startled me a little,” she said.
“I moved over as close as possible to the side of the road… that’s when the woman in front of her lost control of her vehicle,” she said.
While under cross examination from Krieg, Hodge said she believed the vehicle in front of her was occupied by a female driver and a man in the passenger seat, which would be a match the Camry, and not the Lexus she purported to be behind, which was occupied by two females in the front seat and a minor girl and minor boy in the backseat.
She said her memory of the collision during the previous trial, which was often inconsistent or incorrect, was hindered because she felt bullied by Krieg, Danny Anderson’s attorney Tom Johnson and by people in the audience.
Hodge also admitted to receiving compensation for her participation with defense investigators.
She estimated she was paid approximately $500 for gas and expenses, but she “didn’t sit there and count it.”
She also noted the defense paid for her hotel in Stockton because she testified on Wednesday.
Hodge testified she raced to the Hacienda after seeing the accident, an office building for Lake Don Pedro homeowners, to find service to make an emergency call.
Pamela Hatler, an office manager at the Lake Don Pedro Hacienda, testified that a woman came into her office claiming she saw the accident.
Hatler was heard in an audio recording reporting details of the collision.
“It happened right in front of the lady who’s reporting it,” Hatler said in the 911 call.
Hodge said she then drove to her mother’s house to make a call herself.
Stacy Fister-Walley, a CHP dispatcher, testified she transcribed Hodge’s statement to the best of her ability at the time of the report, noting, “Her name is Christina — she saw the whole [traffic collision], she is stating that she was directly behind the vehicle that lost control, there was an [female] walking down rdwy (possibly a juv) and one vehicle that got hit possibly hit her, she was down in the rdwy not breathing.”
CHP could not find the original audio of the 911 call — either not recorded or lost.
Fister-Walley testified she did not know why the audio recording was not available and testified that she took the call at her desk, which was a recorded line.
Nuttall directed Fister-Walley, line by line, through more than 20 notations in the CHP call log which identified witness reports and the delegation of emergency resources for five minutes after the first report was issued at 4:26 p.m.
The Hodge call was made at 4:46 p.m.
Hodge testified she did not see the vehicle in front of her leave the road and that both cars flipped over and rolled in a somersault motion from front bumper to the back wheel.
Two survivors testified earlier that a car passed them while driving northbound just before the collision.
Siebert denied a defense motion to acquit Diane Anderson based on the prosecution’s failure to present evidence that she had knowledge a crime was committed.
“There is no rational basis upon which the court can conclude that the people have established a case whereby a jury could legitimately find her guilty in the absence of that knowledge,” said Nuttall.
Diane Anderson 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.
Nuttall said the jury would have to “blithely assume” that Diane Anderson’s multiple denials of knowing the cause of the accident were an outright lie. He also said a discrepancy on her charging documents — she pleaded not guilty to hit and run in the original information when her case was still joined with her husband which identified her as the driver — should force the charge to be tossed.
Siebert said Nutall agreed to use updated charging documents in the trial, which rectified the description, identifying Diane Anderson as a passenger and registered owner.
Tuolumne County Deputy District Attorney Harold Nutt said the prosecution had provided “oodles of circumstantial evidence,” such as the violence of the pass, her behavior at the scene and her statements to CHP officers to validate their charges.
“She was clearly out of sorts and shocked by what happened,” Nutt said. He added to her statement that she came upon the collision, “there is no innocent explanation for that statement.”
Siebert acknowledged that the prosecution’s case hinged on whether Diane Anderson knew about the cause of the collision, but noted it was up for the jury to decide “if they believe that denial or not.”
On Tuesday, Danny Anderson invoked spousal privilege and the 5th Amendment to not appear as a prosecution witness. He was sentenced to five years and four months in state prison last year after being convicted of triple manslaughter and remains in custody.