Diane Anderson, a Sonora nurse convicted of accessory after the fact to vehicular manslaughter for her role in an October 2016 triple-fatal collision on J-59, was sentenced to 10 months in the Tuolumne County Jail, 30 days of work release and 90 days of home electronic monitoring on Monday morning in the Tuolumne County Superior Court.
Tuolumne County Superior Court Judge Kevin Seibert said he sought to find balance for the demands of justice and her mitigating circumstances — no criminal history with a low risk of reoffending.
“It is when passions are most inflamed that fairness is most in jeopardy,” he said, recalling a note which he said was on his office desk.
The sentence also included 300 hours of community service. Seibert said Anderson will have to serve one day of electronic monitoring and 10 hours of community service for every day of the work release she cannot complete.
She was also ordered to pay $16,000 in restitution to members of the Hoffman family and $2,740 in fees.
Seibert’s remarks were tinged with the repeated reproach that Anderson appeared to have no remorse for her or her husband’s role in the collision.
On Sept. 10, a jury of seven women and five men in San Joaquin County found her guilty of the felonies of accessory after the fact to vehicular manslaughter and failure to perform a duty after an accident and misdemeanors concealing or destroying evidence and obstructing a law enforcement investigation.
Central to the accessory charge was the jury’s determination Danny Anderson caused a collision between a southbound Lexus RX300 and a northbound Toyota Camry after passing two cars going northbound over double yellow lines on the rural La Grange highway J-59.
Diane Anderson was accused by the prosecution of concealing their involvement and withholding information from the California Highway Patrol while investigators sought to determine the cause of the collision.
Seibert read the definition for remorse out loud in the packed courtroom — a “deep regret or guilt for a wrong committed” — while Diane Anderson sat between her attorneys in a striped Tuolumne County Jail jumpsuit.
“By definition, Diane Anderson is not showing any remorse,” Seibert said, though he noted she appeared “empathetic for the victims who have suffered a tragic loss.”
“That’s not remorse. Everybody in this room feels that,” he said.
The hearing was moved from the courthouse on South Washington Street to the historic courthouse on Yaney Avenue in the morning, the same location where Danny Anderson was sentenced almost a year and a half ago to serve five years and four months in state prison on a triple-vehicular manslaughter conviction.
Every seat in the courtroom was filled with others standing along the rear wall.
Two family members of the deceased mother and daughter spoke about how the deaths changed their lives and Diane Anderson’s attorneys, friends and family appealed for leniency.
“We have remained private in our grief,” said Wendy Hoffman, the stepmother of the driver of the Lexus RX300 killed in the collision, 16-year-old Trista Hoffman. “We are here so we could put words to our grief.”
Carolyn Case, Trista’s grandmother and mother of Tina Hoffman, who died in the collision, cried as she told about the emotional turmoil their family has endured.
“It doesn’t only break your heart, it breaks your soul,” Case said. “Danny and you gave Tina and Trista a life sentence. They didn’t have a trial.”
As Wendy Hoffman and Case spoke, Diane Anderson looked down at her lap. At times, she sniffed and appeared to dab her face with a tissue.
Both advocated for Diane Anderson to receive the maximum sentence, four years and eight months in state prison.
Diane Anderson did not make a statement at the sentencing hearing.
Seibert said a statement from Dillon Hoffman, Trista’s brother who was in the backseat during the crash and survived, said he will never run again.
Hoffman testified to seeing the Acura MDX driving northbound in the southbound lane and coming toward their vehicle seconds before the crash occurred.
Dorothy Eisemann, a key trial witness who testified to seeing the Anderson Acura “whoosh by her” and whose husband, Rheinholt, died in the collision, indicated the trial “sucked all of her energy,” Seibert said.
In her letter, Eisemann also said she was “disgusted by the Andersons,” Seibert said.
Seibert said he read dozens of letters in support of Diane Anderson which attested to her kindness and requested no jail time be imposed.
He said he received a letter from Diane Anderson’s daughter, Heather Anderson, which referenced the “elephant in the room, what if the jury is wrong?”
“That elephant is not for this court,” Seibert said. “It’s not this court’s job to second-guess the jury.”
Seibert also noted “lack of criminal record is not a get out of jail free card.”
The probation report prepared for Diane Anderson’s sentencing made a recommendation for one year in county jail and other guidelines commensurate with Seibert’s final judgement.
Seibert said he was struck by the statements from the probation officer regarding the case, noting the officer was “appalled” by Diane Anderson’s lack of accountability and continued denial of responsibility. The officer said Diane Anderson was deceitful in her concealment of evidence.
“The court shares many of the sentiments of the probation officer,” Seibert said. He also said he was “troubled” by her trial testimony, noting it was like “watching a boat someone forgot to tie up. It was all over the place.”
Diane Anderson testified during her trial that she had taken the prescription medications gabapentin and klonopin before the collision and she was not aware her husband crossed the double yellow lines when they returned to the scene.
Tuolumne County District Attorney Laura Krieg said, “if it were not for the grace of God” CHP officers were able to acquire surveillance video from the Houseboat Mini Mart showing a procession of vehicles with the Anderson’s 2015 Acura MDX at the rear, they “would have gotten off scot-free with what they did.”
Seibert said he agreed with that statement and noted they likely wouldn’t have said they “came upon” the collision if they knew about the surveillance video at the time.
The Andersons sold the Acura MDX about six weeks after the collision in Southern California.
Seibert also said the defense strategy to pin the cause of the collision on George Perez, a salesman who saw the collision aftermath and made the first recorded call to 911, was “flatly rejected” by the jury.
The defense sought to bolster the eyewitness account of Christina Hodge, the only person in the trial who testified to a southbound passing vehicle as the cause of the collision, by suggesting Perez caused it and he was concealing his involvement.
Seibert also said the jury rejected the rationalization that Diane Anderson declined to call the CHP regarding the ongoing search for a white Acura MDX in the weeks following the collision because press reports and CHP releases said the vehicle “fled the scene.”
Earlier in the hearing, Seibert denied a defense motion to reduce the felony charges to misdemeanors.
“We understand the tragedy that this is,” said Nathan Nutting, Diane Anderson’s attorney from Sonora. “We’re not taking anything away from that.”
Diane Anderson’s attorney from Fresno, Roger Nuttall said he would not be making a motion for a new trial at this time, but noted for the record the defendant’s opposition to the hit and run charge related to the registered owner and passenger in a vehicle being held accountable as an accessory.
Diane Anderson has served 26 days in custody of county jails, beginning with San Joaquin County before her transfer to Tuolumne County.
Seibert declined to release Diane Anderson from jail between her conviction and her sentencing, citing a statement she made during settlement discussions related to harming herself if she was incarcerated.
Seibert said if Diane Anderson is released from jail early due to overcrowding or any other issue, she will have to complete the remainder of her sentence on electronic monitoring. He said she will not be able to earn good behavior credits while on electronic monitoring.
Siebert also sentenced her to five years probation.