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Rebecca Grossman: A split second that changed two families’ lives forever

Rebecca Grossman: A split second that changed two families’ lives forever

In the fall of 2020 tragedy struck in Westlake Village, an upscale suburban area northwest of Los Angeles.

Two young boys, trailing their parents through an intersection, were killed after two large Mercedes SUVs zoomed through the neighborhood and plowed into them.

Mark Iskander, 11, was killed instantly. His brother Jacob, eight, died hours later in hospital.

Police caught up to one of the vehicles a third of a mile down the road, where they arrested the driver. The woman was Rebecca Grossman – a well-known philanthropist and former wife of prominent plastic surgeon Peter Grossman.

The couple are the co-founders of the Grossman Burns Foundation, a charity that has helped burn victims – both adults and children, across the world. Prior to the incident Grossman’s only run-in with the law had been a speeding ticket in 2013.

The horrific incident was one that would stretch on for almost four years, with Grossman finally sentenced this week to 15 years to life in prison for the boy’s deaths.

“I may not know the Iskanders personally, but this community still feels the horror of those children’s deaths and the sadness that will continue with the parents,” wrote one resident of Westlake Village, in a letter to The Los Angeles Times in March 2024.

The two young brothers, Mark and Jacob Iskander
The two young brothers, Mark and Jacob Iskander (Mark and Jacob Foundation)

Nancy Iskander, the boy’s mother, said the scene had never left her mind. “I still see it every night. It haunts me every night,” she said.

Grossman too had replayed the split second in time “a billion times,” she said, and wished she could have died in place of the boys.

“As God is my witness, if I had seen anyone in the road ahead of my car, my knee-jerk reaction would have been to immediately steer away hard, to avoid hitting anyone or anything,” she wrote in a letter to the Iskanders.

The Incident

Nancy Iskander was walking with her husband and three young children, Mark, Jacob and Zachary, through Westlake Village on Tuesday evening on September 29, 2020.

The youngest, Zachary, was being pushed by his mother in a stroller across an intersection, while the other older boys followed behind on a scooter and rollerblades.

Iskander would later recall that she heard screeching tires and saw two vehicles “zig-zagging” towards her family at high speeds. She dove to push her youngest out of the road but the boys were too far across the intersection to reach.

Mark was thrown into the air as the large white Mercedes SUV struck, hurling him some 250ft. Jacob was found near to the curb, 50ft away from the impact.

The next day police announced online that Grossman had been arrested and charged with two counts of vehicular manslaughter, with bail set at $2m.

The charges were later upgraded to two counts of murder, two counts of vehicular manslaughter and one count of hit and run driving resulting in death or serious injury to another person.

Prosecutors accused her of “racing” her lover, former Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Scott Erikson, through the suburban area in “a high-speed game of chicken”, having been drinking cocktails with him at a nearby bar shortly before.

The Trial

It would be more than three years until Grossman’s trial would begin.

During a six-week trial in February, a jury of nine men and three women heard how she was tailing Erikson’s own SUV and driving as fast as 81 mph through the suburban area seconds before the collision.

A crash expert also testified that, had Grossman slowed from 73 mph to the posted limit of 45 mph for just five seconds, she would not have hit the youngsters because they would have made it to the curb.

Iskander also provided a harrowing account of what she witnessed during the fatal crash at trial, during which she said the pair of SUVs “were zigzagging with each other as if they were playing or racing”.

“They didn’t stop before the intersection. They didn’t stop at the intersection. They didn’t stop when an 11-year-old was on the hood of the car… Nobody stopped,” she recounted tearfully.

Rebecca Grossman, a prominent LA philanthropist and socialite
Rebecca Grossman, a prominent LA philanthropist and socialite (ABC 7 News/screengrab)

In a letter sent to the Iskanders following her conviction, Grossman, begged them to believe she had not seen the boys on the dark evening and would have “driven my car into a tree” to avoid them.

“I wish God had given me the opportunity to give my life instead of that of Mark and Jacob’s. I’m not afraid of death,” she said.

During the trial, despite prosecutors’ assertion that Grossman and Erikson had been drinking cocktails in a nearby bar, the court heard that after the crash, her blood alcohol level – when tested at a Los Angeles lab – was 0.08 per cent, the legal limit for driving in LA.

It was later noted by Superior Court Judge Joseph Brandolino that she had, however, been driving under “slight impairment.”

Throughout the trial, Grossman’s lawyers continuously tried to lay the blame for the tragedy at the feet of Erikson, arguing that his own black Mercedes SUV was blocking Grossman’s view of the family in the crosswalk ahead.

It was also argued by the defense, that the former MLB player had hit the children first, and then “hid in the bushes” nearby, watching police arrive at the scene. Three eyewitnesses told the trial it was a white or light-colored car that hit the children.

Grossman’s daughter, Alexis Grossmna, later testified that Erikson had threatened her not to say anything about his involvement in the incident.

The baseball star’s single misdemeanor reckless driving charge was ultimately dismissed after he made a public service announcement about the need for safe driving.

The two young brothers whose deaths tore a community apart
The two young brothers whose deaths tore a community apart (Mark and Jacob foundation)

The conviction

There were tense and emotional scenes in the Van Nuys courtroom as the verdict against Grossman was read out on February 22: guilty on all counts.

The maximum sentence for the crimes was up to 34 years behind bars.

As the decision was read aloud in court, Alexis Grossman, cried out, “Oh my God, Oh my God,” as tears ran down her cheeks. Her mother, also crying, consoled her daughter, along with her ex-husband Peter Grossman.

As Grossman was taken into custody, her daughter screamed. Her mother begged her stop.

On the other side of the aisle, the Iskanders breathed a sigh of relief. “We are now ready to start our healing process,” Iskander said, as she thanked prosecutors, alongside her husband, Karim Iskander.

“My family has been waiting for this for three and a half years now, I give glory to God.”

Still, she said that the sight of Grossman in handcuffs had brought her no joy.

“No one wishes that on anyone,” she said. “I promise I do not have any hate for her. My heart broke for her children… It wasn’t easy, but it will bring me closure.”

An ordeal not yet over

That closure was seemingly short-lived, as Grossman and her family sought to appeal the verdict and delay the sentencing multiple times.

The LA District Attorney’s office accused Grossman of illegal conduct and potential criminal conspiracies from behind bars, including admissions of violating court orders and conspiring to tamper with witnesses while on the phone to her ex-husband and daughter.

She was denied a new trial by judge Brandolino in early June, despite her newly hired lawyer, James Spertus, arguing there was no evidence presented at trial to support the implied malice needed for murder charges.

“It is a tragedy not a murder,” Spertus said, at the hearing. “She doesn’t have a malignant heart.”

Nancy Iskander, left, holding the hand of her husband, Karim, leaves Van Nuys Courthouse on Monday, June 10, 2024, in Van Nuys, Calif.
Nancy Iskander, left, holding the hand of her husband, Karim, leaves Van Nuys Courthouse on Monday, June 10, 2024, in Van Nuys, Calif. (Associated Press)

In a prior interview with Fox News Digital, Iskander accused Grossman of showing “only hate” towards her family following her conviction, and treated them as “the number one enemy in the world.”

“Every time we try to move on to that next step, the legal system or Ms Grossman, or both, take us back into the fight for justice,” she said.

“It’s horrific to say the least. She has not expressed remorse but more importantly, she has not even shown mercy… I felt that she had many opportunities to show mercy, plead guilty or figure out a way to just shorten the process of the fight, and not having to take me back, again and again, into that courtroom.”

Remorse

The two mothers had met briefly on the fateful night in 2020, after Grossman was taken to the same hospital as the two young boys.

“That was your opportunity [to apologize]. You looked me in the eye. You knew they were dying,” Iskander said, during her emotional testimony.

Grossman later claimed she had “desperately” wanted to reach out to the Iskanders to apologize but had been stopped “time and time again” by legal advisors.

In a letter to the Iskanders, obtained by The Daily Mail, she said she would have driven her car “into a tree” to avoid hitting the boys if she had seen them. She claimed she had even reached out to NASA to see if they had video recordings of the incident, to try and understand what happened.

The letter noted how the incident had taken a toll on Grossman both physically and mentally. “At first, It was difficult to function at all. I could not remember what people had said to me minutes earlier,” she wrote. Recalling the moment she had learned of the children’s deaths she admitted to having being suicidal.

“I couldn’t believe how many tears could come out of my body. I so desperately wanted to reach out to you,” she said.

The Sentence

“I am not a murderer, and I ask you to recognize that true fact,” Grossman wrote in another letter, this time to judge Brandolino, prior to her sentencing.

“My pain, my recognition of the pain the Iskanders suffer, and the pain I watch my family endure, are punishments that I already suffer and will for the rest of my life.”

Prosecutors pushed for the maximum 34 years, citing her “complete lack of remorse and narcissistic superiority” and attempts to appeal her verdict and delay the sentence.

During the sentencing hearing Grossman tried once more to appeal to Iskander, pleading with her as she tried to leave the courtroom. “Please don’t leave,” she said. “I’ve waited almost four years to reach out to you…parent to parent, mother to mother”.

“All I’ve ever wanted to do is to tell you how sorry I am. My pain is nothing compared to your pain — not even a fraction.”

Iskander bowed her head, remaining silent.

Judge Brandolino gave Grossman two concurrent terms of 15 years to life – one for each child – with three concurrent years for fleeing the scene of the fatal crash.

While Grossman’s behavior was “reckless and unquestionably negligent,”the judge said, she was “not a monster, as the prosecutors portrayed her to be.”

Iskander described the two concurrent sentences as a “stab in the heart”.

“These are two different lives. These are two boys, and they don’t go two-for-one,” she said.

“There is no such thing as killing them a little bit. She killed them.”

LA District Attorney George Gascón said: “While we respect the judicial process, we are deeply disappointed with the outcome of today’s sentencing.

“The loss of these two innocent lives has devastated their family and our community. Ms. Grossman’s blatant disregard for human life is a stark reminder of the grave consequences of irresponsible behavior behind the wheel.”

“No one is entitled to kill anyone and run away,” Iskander added. “I am still looking for the day she admits she did it.”

In spite of the sentence, the Iskanders have since announced they will set up a foundation to support underserved children, in memory of their sons.

In a previous interview Iskander said: “They’re not just my boys. They’re just an innocent 11-year-old [and] an innocent eight-year-old on a crosswalk.

“That could be anyone’s kids.”


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