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Hit-and-Run

California socialite gets 15 to life for 2020 hit-and-run deaths of two young brothers

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VENTURA COUNTY, Calif. – A Southern California socialite was sentenced Monday to 15 years to life in state prison for striking and killing two children at a crosswalk nearly four years ago.

Rebecca Grossman, 60, was driving her white Mercedes SUV at 73 mph in a 45 mph zone when she hit Mark Iskander, 11, and his brother Jacob, 8, in Westlake Village, California, on Sept. 29, 2020. The boys had been crossing the road with their mom and younger brother.

After the crash, Grossman, of Hidden Hills, California, didn’t stop the vehicle until the Mercedes' crash safety features cut off the fuel, prosecutors said.

A jury in February found Grossman guilty of two counts of second-degree murder, two counts of vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence, and one count of hit-and-run driving resulting in death. On Monday, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Joseph Brandolino sentenced her to 15 years to life on both murder counts and three years on hit-and-run driving, all to run concurrently.

The judge thanked the boys’ mother, Nancy Iskander, for speaking about the family’s deep pain and unimaginable loss. No penalty will seem harsh enough given the magnitude of the loss, he said.

Grossman – who has no prior criminal history and engaged in philanthropy – initially faced a sentence of 34 years to life in prison, which Brandolino said was not warranted.

Grossman was reckless, unquestionably grossly negligent and engaged in dangerous behavior, he said. "But she’s not a monster as the prosecution attempts to portray her," Brandolino added.

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Family, friends speak about Iskander boys

More than a dozen of the Iskanders' family members, friends, the boys' teachers and classmates spoke inside the Van Nuys courtroom on Monday. They shared stories about Mark and Jacob, sometimes through tears, and talked about the pain of losing both of them.

Mark, who dreamed of becoming a neurosurgeon or a stand-up comedian, was quick to raise his hand in class or help his brother with homework. He always had a new factoid to share or joke to tell.

Jacob looked up to his older brother. His favorite animal was a cougar and his laugh could fill rooms. He was the protector, Nancy Iskander said Monday.

When Jacob died, Bodie Wallace lost his best friend, the former classmate told the judge on Monday. Bodie repeated Jacob's favorite joke and told Brandolino the name of Jacob's favorite song. He cries when he hears that song, but what hurts him the most is that Zachary Iskanders, the boys' younger brother, had to see what happened, he said.

On the night of the crash, Nancy Iskander grabbed her youngest son, the closest one to her, and dove out of the path of a black SUV that defense attorneys said was driven by Scott Erickson, Grossman's then-boyfriend.  Iskander looked up and saw a white SUV pass the spot where her other sons had just been, she said. Defense attorneys said the boys were first hit by the black SUV.

Mark likely died within minutes if not seconds, an expert testified during the trial. Paramedics rushed Jacob to Los Robles Regional Medical Center where he was later pronounced dead. 

Nancy Iskander talks about her sons

Zachary, 5 at the time of the crash, continues to struggle, his mom told the judge on Monday. On the night of the crash, Zachary heard the deputy tell his mom that Mark was dead and he saw paramedics trying to resuscitate Jacob.

That night at the hospital, Nancy Iskander saw Grossman. Nancy Iskander was in the emergency room with Jacob, and the doctors had just told her he wasn’t breathing on his own. They asked about disconnecting life support, she said.

Iskander walked outside in disbelief when she saw Grossman, who was taken to the hospital by the police.

Grossman has said she hasn’t had the opportunity to talk to the Iskanders, but she had the chance that night, Nancy Iskander said in the courtroom.

“She looked me in the eye,” she said, raising her voice from behind a podium. “That was your opportunity.”

Mark and Jacob Iskander hold up their younger brother Zachary in this photo. On Sept. 29, 2020, Mark, 11, and Jacob, 8, were struck and killed on Triunfo Canyon Road.

Prosecution seeks maximum sentence

Attorneys’ descriptions of Grossman differed starkly during her sentencing. Prosecutors described Grossman as without remorse and having a lack of respect for the rule of law.

She never apologized or admitted guilt, Deputy District Attorney Ryan Gould said Monday. She blamed others and repeatedly violated court orders.

“This wasn’t a tragic accident,” Gould said. “This was a preventable murder.”

The prosecution had asked the judge to impose two consecutive sentences of 15 years to life and an additional four years for hit-and-run driving.

Meanwhile, Grossman’s attorneys described their client, the cofounder of the Grossman Burn Foundation, as a mother and philanthropist who grew up with hardships and abuse. They asked that she receive probation.

Her actions just after the crash were consistent with someone in complete shock, her attorney Samuel Josephs told the judge. He cited court orders, saying she didn’t have an opportunity to express remorse to the Iskanders. 

Rebecca Grossman: 'I never saw anyone'

Grossman, who didn't testify during her trial, stood up and faced the Iskanders as she made her own statement on Monday. She said she would give her life if it could bring Mark and Jacob back.

When she couldn't talk parent to parent or mother to mother, she wanted "to leave this world," she said.

"God knows, I never saw anybody. I never saw anyone," Grossman said of the crash. After she finished, she sat down at the defense table, sobbing, her head down.

Earlier, her attorneys had played a video of her family and friends talking about her work with the Grossman Burn Foundation and her character. Her teenage son and daughter then stood together in the courtroom, taking turns speaking about their mom. Alexis Grossman, 19, told the judge that her mom never had malice in her heart.

"Please don't take my mom away from me for too long," she said crying.

Prosectors: Disappointed in the sentence

Outside of the courthouse Monday, deputy district attorneys Gould and Jamie Castro said they respect the process but were disappointed with the sentence. Grossman failed to take any responsibility for what she did even in her statement during Monday's hearing, Gould said.

"We don't think the judge gave a sentence that was appropriate in light of everything that Ms. Grossman has done," he said.

He continued, adding that they were happy that justice had been done, he said.

"Hopefully, this finally being done will give the Iskanders some closure and the opportunity to move forward with their lives," Gould said.

Cheri Carlson covers the environment and county government for the Ventura County Star. Reach her at cheri.carlson@vcstar.com or 805-437-0260

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