THIS IS NOT the sort of life Rebecca Grossman was supposed to be living.
The 58-year-old former flight attendant turned socialite was meant to be spending her middle years enjoying the bounties of upper-class privilege. Married to one of L.A.’s most successful plastic surgeons—Dr. Peter H. Grossman, founder of the famous Grossman Burn Center, which took in actress Anne Heche after a high-speed crash in Mar Vista in August and where Jay Leno was treated in November following a garage gas fire—she had everything a real housewife of Hidden Hills could possibly want: A $7.6 million nine-bedroom ranch house in a gated community right next door to a movie star (well, Lori Loughlin), a thriving family (two teenage kids and an adopted daughter—a young burn victim Grossman and her husband adopted from Afghanistan in 2002 so that she could be treated at Peter’s hospital—two horses, five dogs, and a 100-pound turtle), a wardrobe that would have Lisa Vanderpump biting her knuckles with envy, and an expensive—and, as it would turn out, fatefully fast—Mercedes coupe.
But then, Rebecca Grossman’s perfect life became a perfect nightmare. “Everything changed in a split second—overnight,” she tells Los Angeles during a half-hour Zoom call from her lawyer’s office in October.
Exactly what transpired will soon be litigated in court—Grossman is expected to go on trial for two counts of murder, among other charges, in March—but here are the basics as we know them. On the evening of September 29, 2020, witnesses saw Grossman zigzagging at 80 miles an hour in her GLE43 along Saddle Mountain Drive and Triunfo Canyon Road in Westlake Village, a few minutes from her home. Another car, a black SUV, was also spotted, allegedly racing with Grossman in what some are describing as a frisky game of cat and mouse. At exactly 7:10 p.m., six minutes after dusk, Grossman’s car struck and killed two children—Mark Iskander, 11, and Jacob Iskander, 8—who’d been skateboarding and rollerblading on the street as the rest of their family walked nearby, coming from a trip to a nearby lake.
Beyond those cold, hard, tragic facts, the rest of the story is, not surprisingly, hotly contested. Did Grossman, as prosecutors are charging, try to restart her stalled Mercedes in an attempt to flee the scene of the accident? Or was it, as Grossman contends, the towing company that later restarted her car? And what was Grossman’s relationship to the driver of the black SUV, retired Dodgers pitcher Scott Erickson, who’s been charged with a reckless-driving misdemeanor for his part in the incident? Were they longtime friends, as Grossman insists? Or was she having an extramarital affair with Erickson, as the Iskanders have asserted in a separate multimillion-dollar civil suit? “People have tried to make it something it wasn’t,” Grossman says, denying any romantic involvement.
All we know for sure is that before the accident, Grossman and Erickson had been seen drinking margaritas together at a Mexican restaurant in Westlake Village, along with another retired baseball player, Royce Clayton, who turns out to be the head coach at the Oaks Christian School where Mark Iskander was in fifth grade and Grossman’s own son attends high school. (Grossman’s blood-alcohol levels, according to a test administered after the accident, were not above California’s limit for driving.)
“There is a lot of hate and anger out there,” Grossman says, speaking softly and carefully, a slight Texas twang in her voice. (She grew up in Odessa, Texas, and attended Texas Tech University before moving to L.A. and earning a broadcast journalism certificate from UCLA.) Although no stranger to media attention, this is Grossman’s first major interview since the incident—or at least the first since a story about her in a Westlake magazine, Southern California Life, got pulled six days after publication amid online backlash. “And that hate stems from believing everything that’s been put out there about who I am: that I have no remorse, that I’m this monster, that this hasn’t affected my life, that I just go about my every day as if this never happened.” She adds, “That’s just not true.”
Grossman’s life has clearly been upended by what happened on Saddle Mountain Drive. For one thing, she’s become something of a pariah in her own neighorhood. Friends from the charity galas that Grossman used to regularly throw for her husband’s burn center suddenly stopped calling. Volunteers from the Hidden Hills homeowners’ association have reportedly been warning residents of the area—like Kylie Jenner—to “exercise caution” around Grossman.
Grossman has found herself so isolated that the only solace she can find is from strangers like the Uber driver who pulled over to the side of the road and prayed with her on that tragic evening.
And then there is the crushing guilt; she says her part in the accidental death of two children—and she does insist it was accidental—has weighed so heavily on her that she “couldn’t function in any way.” A year after the crash, Grossman’s mother died from complications linked to Alzheimer’s and that triggered Grossman’s fears that the trauma of the accident had caused her own dementia.
“The thought of taking the easy way out crossed my mind,” she admits, breaking down in tears as she confesses to having suicidal thoughts. “It still does from time to time.”
“She cries every day,” her husband says. “She is in an emotional prison that she may never be able to get out of.”
Of course, the Iskanders have endured much worse over the last two years. Nancy and Karim Iskander not only lost two of their four children, but they’ve also had to endure an excruciatingly slow legal process in their quest for what they see as justice. They believe Grossman’s high-priced defense team—at one point headed by top L.A. DUI attorney Richard Hutton—have been slow-walking the proceedings, and there are many who agree. Some 54,000 people have signed a Change.org petition launched by women from Westlake Village demanding, among other things, that Grossman’s mug shot be released to the public, that her $2 million bail be revoked, and that she be put behind bars while waiting for trial.
The thought of taking the easy way out crossed my mind. It still does.
Even some of the judges involved in the case have expressed frustration with its slow pace; at a September 2021 hearing, Judge Shellie Samuels admonished Grossman for failing to show up for five scheduled court appointments. “I have never seen Ms. Grossman,” she fumed. “She has not been to court once.”
A few months later, Grossman’s case was delayed again, after Hutton became ill and passed away, forcing Grossman to hire a new lawyer, Tony Buzbee, the attorney who represented two dozen women accusing former Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson of sexual misconduct.
Grossman’s 18-year-old daughter recently started a website that seeks to counter the prevailing narrative of her mom as a sozzled, street-racing socialite. Her site takes firm aim at media reports and the prosecutor’s claims about the accident, noting that two breathalyzers administered by police in the aftermath of the collision showed that Grossman blew under the legal limit and that she also passed a field sobriety test at the scene. The site also claims that estimates of Grossman’s speed based on black-box data obtained from her Mercedes were grossly exaggerated and that recordings of her 911 call will show she made no attempt to flee the scene.
When LAMag reached out to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office regarding these claims, a spokesperson replied, “We have no comment regarding the website. The preliminary hearing was conducted and Rebecca Grossman was held to answer. There is a transcript of the hearing that is a public record of the evidence that was presented in court.”
The wait for a trial may soon be coming to an end. This past September, a Superior Court judge rejected the Grossman defense team’s motion to have the murder charges against her reduced to vehicular manslaughter. Judge Joseph Brandolino found that there was probable cause to determine that Grossman acted with implied malice rather than merely gross negligence. If convicted as charged, Grossman could face as many as 34 years in prison.
As far as Nancy Iskander is concerned, it still won’t be enough. “The car never stopped when the boys were hit or in the aftermath. One minute, he was skating; the next minute, he was lying there,” she testified about Mark at a pretrial hearing last April, pausing before adding, “I will say it—dead.”
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This article appears in the December 2022 issue of Los Angeles magazine