LOS ANGELES: Kobe Bryant’s widow told a court Friday she was devastated when she learned first responders had snapped graphic photographs of her dead husband and daughter in the wreckage of the helicopter crash that killed them. A tearful Vanessa Bryant said she lives in fear of the pictures surfacing on the internet, and “constantly being spread”. “Once it’s spread, you can’t get it back,” she said. US basketball legend Kobe Bryant and his teenage daughter were among nine people who died when their chopper smashed into a hillside near Los Angeles in 2020.
Vanessa Bryant alleges she has suffered emotional distress because personnel from the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department and firefighters took pictures of the scene which they later shared, including at a bar, with friends and other first responders. One sheriff’s deputy acknowledged that he had sent the pictures to a fellow deputy as the pair played “Call of Duty”.
Vanessa Bryant told a Los Angeles court on Friday she had bolted out of the house to find a place to cry away from her daughters when she learned of the existence of the photos. “I broke down and cried, and I wanted to run down the block and just scream,” the Los Angeles Times reported her saying. “I don’t want my children to ever come across them,” she said. “I have three little girls.”
Bryant is suing Los Angeles County for unspecified millions of dollars in damages, in a case that has been joined to that of Chris Chester, whose wife and daughter also perished in the crash. The suits allege negligence and invasion of privacy. Attorneys say the grisly mobile phone pictures were snapped as “souvenirs” by first responders who had no business taking photos.
Lawyers for Los Angeles County do not dispute that the photos were taken, but insist they have never been made public and have now been deleted. Chester told the courtroom in Los Angeles of his disbelief when he learned of the pictures a month after the tragedy – including that they had been flaunted at a bar and at an awards ceremony.
“I had largely insulated my family from the details” of the crash, he said. “Now, I thought there would be pictures of the remains” on the Internet, he said, adding he had instantly warned his sons: “Please don’t start Googling for them.” “I’m fearful every day,” he told the nine-strong jury. “There’s been a lot of things that people thought didn’t exist — that have turned up on the internet.”
Mira Hashmall, representing the county in the civil litigation, said earlier that the case, which began last week, hinged on this issue of public dissemination. “From the time of the crash to now, the county has worked tirelessly to prevent its crash site photos from getting into the public domain,” she said. “Over two and a half years later, no county photos have appeared in the media, none can be found online, and the plaintiffs admit they’ve never seen them.”
Relatives of other victims were last year granted $2.5 million in compensation over the photo-taking. An investigation into the crash found the pilot had probably become disorientated after flying the Sikorsky S-76 into fog. Bryant is widely recognized as one of the greatest basketball players ever, a figure who became the face of his sport during a glittering two decades with the Los Angeles Lakers. He was a five-time NBA champion in a career that began in 1996 straight out of high school and lasted until his retirement in 2016. – AFP