The October 12 deposition reminds the ongoing legal battle between Vanessa Bryant, the widow of the late Kobe Bryant, and the sheriff’s department, fire department and Los Angeles County. Transcripts from the deposition detail how Vanessa found out her husband (41) and daughter (13) had passed away.
At around 11.30 in the morning, a family assistant knocked on the door of their Orange County home and broke the news that the helicopter carrying her husband, Kobe and Gianna had crashed.
“She told me that there was an accident and that there were five survivors,” Vanessa testified. “And I asked her if Gianna and Kobe were OK. And she said she wasn’t sure.”
Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna were on their way to a basketball game at the Mamba Sports Academy in Thousand Oaks when the helicopter crashed into a hillside in Calabasas, California, on January 26. 2020.
Believing her husband was OK, Vanessa tried reaching her husband on his phone.
“I was holding on to my phone, because obviously 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,” Vanessa said during the deposition.
After receiving the text messages, Vanessa went to pick up her daughter Natalia, who had been attending a college entrance exam prep class that morning.
“I told her that Daddy and Gigi were in an accident. Not to worry. I’m sure they’re fine because there are five survivors,” Vanessa had told her daughter. “And I’m sure Daddy and Gigi are fine. I just felt, I knew that they would be helping people.”
After that, court papers show that Vanessa went to the airport to charter a helicopter to fly quickly from Orange County to Calabasas—the site where the helicopter had crashed. But due to bad weather, Vanessa was turned down by the owner of the helicopter.
Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka drove Vanessa from the airport to the Malibu-Lost Hill station of the L. A County Sheriff’s Department—nearly two hours away.
On arrival, Vanessa recalled that nobody at the station was willing to tell her what was going on.
“I kept asking if my husband and daughter were OK,” she said. “No one would answer me,” Vanessa recalled.
It wouldn’t be until hours had passed and when she had been shuffled from one room to another that she would be told what had happened. Sheriff Alex Villanueva walked into Vanessa’s room with a pastor and a woman, who was later identified as a publicist.
“I asked her to leave because I wanted privacy,” Bryant said.
Sheriff Alex Villanueva then proceeded to break the news of her husband’s and daughter’s death, finishing by asking, “Is there anything I can do for you.”
“And I said, if you can’t bring my husband and baby back, please make sure no one takes photographs of them. Please secure the area,” Vanessa recalled.
Sheriff Villanueva tried to reassure Vanessa that he would secure the scene, but Vanessa made a direct plea.
“I said: No, I need you to get on the phone right now and I need you to make sure that you secure the area.”
A Los Angeles Times investigation revealed that deputies had shared the grim images of the crash scene just two weeks after the crash.
“I have my husband’s and my daughter’s clothing in my possession. And I can say that they—they suffered a lot,” Vanessa said. “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 our friends, and just share the images as if they were animals on a street.”
Lawyers for the County apologized for the long interrogation, saying multiple times during the deposition, “I’m so sorry to put you through this, but I’ve got to do my job like I said at the beginning.”
Despite sympathizing with Vanessa, the lawyers representing Vanessa want her to have a psychiatric exam to prove their argument.
“We totally sympathize with the enormous loss she suffered. But as a legal matter, we don’t believe she could be harmed by something that didn’t occur.”
Skip Miller, a prominent Century lawyer who the L.A. County has retained, said, “The fact remains that no crash site photos taken by first responders have ever been publicly disseminated, as Ms. Bryant confirmed in her deposition.”
To which Vanessa’s lawyers said, “The County’s tactics are simply a cruel attempt to extract a price for victims to obtain accountability. Rather than take accountability for conduct the sheriff himself called ‘wildly inappropriate’ and ‘disgusting,’ the County has chosen to pull out all the stops to make the case as painful as possible.
And just a few hours ago, U.S. Magistrate Judge Charles Eick granted Vanessa Bryant’s request to compel the pretrial deposition testimony of L.A. County Sheriff Alex Villanueva and County Fire Chief Daryl Osby, two of the top public safety officials in the nation’s most populous County.
Consequently, the L.A. County sheriff and fire chief will have to testify on the pictures taken of the crime scenes under oath.