NBA star Kobe Bryant’s widow Vanessa Bryant has revealed in a sworn statement how she learned of the helicopter crash that killed him and their daughter Gianna, as well as other details from the tragic day that have never before been made public.
Vanessa recounted the fateful events of January 26, 2020 in a deposition for her lawsuit against Los Angeles County, which she is suing over claims deputies shared gruesome crash-scene photos with each other and a bartender.
She said in the deposition that LA Sheriff Alex Villanueva vowed to keep the crash scene private moments after informing her that Kobe and Gianna were dead, and that she deduced the grim condition of the bodies when she recovered the clothes they had been wearing.
Under questioning from a county attorney, Vanessa said she first learned of the crash, which occurred around 9.45am, when her assistant knocked on the door about 11.30am and told her there had been a crash.
NBA star Kobe Bryant’s widow Vanessa Bryant has revealed in a sworn statement how she learned of the helicopter crash that killed him and their daughter Gianna last year
Kobe Bryant is seen with Gianna (top left) as well as his wife and other children
‘She told me that there was an accident and that there were five survivors,’ Vanessa testified from Newport Beach over Zoom on October 12, according to a transcript obtained by USA Today. ‘And I asked her if Gianna and Kobe were okay. And she said she wasn’t sure. She didn’t know.’
Hearing that there were survivors — which turned out not to be true, as all nine people aboard were killed instantly on impact — Vanessa said that she initially assumed Kobe and Gianna had survived.
But as she tried in vain to call her husband, notifications began to pop up on her phone, sharing condolences for Kobe’s death.
‘I was trying to call my husband back, and all these notifications started popping up on my phone, saying RIP Kobe. RIP Kobe. RIP Kobe,’ she said.
It was hours later before Vanessa officially learned from the sheriff that Kobe, 41, and Gianna, 13, had perished in the crash.
She said that she rushed to an airport to try to take a helicopter to the crash scene, but was told that weather conditions would not permit flight.
Vanessa also revealed that she recovered the clothes Kobe and Gianna wore during the crash, out of concern that someone would take pictures of them.
‘They suffered a lot,’ Bryant said during the deposition, according to the New York Times.
‘And if their clothes represent the condition of their bodies, I cannot imagine how someone could be so callous and have no regard for them or their friends and just share the images as if they were animals on the street.’
Vanessa said in the deposition that LA Sheriff Alex Villanueva vowed to keep the crash scene private moments after informing her that Kobe and Gianna were dead
‘The impact of the helicopter crash was so damaging, I just don’t understand how someone can have no regard for life and compassion, and, instead, choose to take that opportunity to photograph lifeless and helpless individuals for their own sick amusement,’ she said.
A charter helicopter was carrying Kobe, Gianna, and other youth basketball players and coaches from Orange County to Thousand Oaks when the pilot became disoriented in fog and crashed in Calabasas.
‘My life will never be the same without my husband and daughter,’ she said.
Vanessa’s federal lawsuit contends that first responders, including firefighters and sheriff´s deputies, shared photographs of Kobe Bryant’s body with a bartender and passed around ‘gratuitous photos of the dead children, parents and coaches.’
She contends in the suit that she has experienced ‘severe emotional distress’ that has compounded the trauma of losing her husband and 13-year-old daughter, Gianna.
The lawsuit contends first responders, including firefighters and sheriff´s deputies, shared photographs of Kobe Bryant’s body with a bartender and passed around ‘gratuitous photos of the dead children, parents and coaches.’
The suit claims that deputies circulated the photos among themselves gratuitously, and that one displayed a photo on his phone to a bartender at Baja California Bar and Grill, who then loudly proclaimed to patrons and staff that he’d just seen an image of Kobe Bryant’s body.
Firefighters work the scene of a helicopter crash where former NBA basketball star Kobe Bryant died in Calabasas on January 26, 2020
Kobe Bryant with daughter Gianna. A charter helicopter was carrying the two and other youth basketball players and coaches from Orange County to Thousand Oaks when the pilot became disoriented in fog and crashed in Calabasas
Los Angeles County contends that, while the conduct was inappropriate, showing a photo to one member of the public does not constitute invasion of privacy.
The county says that the photos were not shared with the media or posted on the internet, and thus were ‘not publicly disseminated.’
In her deposition, Vanessa said she pleaded with the Los Angeles County sheriff to make sure no one took photographs from the crash site, and he reassured that the area had been secured.
After Sheriff Alex Villanueva confirmed her husband, their teenage daughter, along with seven others, were killed, he asked Vanessa Bryant if he could do anything for her.
‘And I said: “If you can’t bring my husband and baby back, please make sure that no one takes photographs of them. Please secure the area,”‘ Vanessa Bryant said during the deposition.
‘And he said: “I will.” And I said: “No, I need you to get on the phone right now and I need you to make sure you secure the area.”‘
Villanueva, she said, excused himself momentarily and reassured her the area had been secured when he came back.
A message seeking comments from Villanueva has not been returned.
Villanueva previously said eight deputies allegedly took or shared graphic photos of the helicopter crash scene, but he ordered them deleted.
Los Angeles County is seeking to compel psychiatric evaluations for Vanessa Bryant and others to determine if they truly suffered emotional distress.
Bryant’s lawyers argue in court filings that the examinations are ‘cruel’ while the county contends the examinations are ‘a routine part of the discovery process.’