Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva has
said eight deputies have admitted possessing photos of Kobe Bryant’s helicopter
The sheriff said he was “devastated and heartbroken” by the
conduct of those responsible.
He told media on March 2 that the deputies involved had deleted the images
on his direction.
Kobe Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna were among nine who died in
the crash on January 26.
The basketball legend was a
five-time NBA champion for his only team, the Los Angeles Lakers, and a double
Olympic gold medalist. After a 20-year career with the team Kobe Bryant retired
in April 2016.
The circulation of photos from the crash site and victims’ remains was first
reported by the Los Angeles Times
In response to the report, Vanessa Bryant, Kobe’s wife, said she was
“absolutely devastated” by the “inexcusable and deplorable”
actions of first responders.
A lawyer for Vanessa Bryant said Alex Villanueva had assured her that
“all measures would be put in place to protect the families’
The lawyer’s statement said: “This
is an unspeakable violation of human decency, respect, and of the privacy
rights of the victims and their families.
“We are demanding that those
responsible for these alleged actions face the harshest possible discipline,
and that their identities be brought to light, to ensure that the photos are
not further disseminated.”
In an interview with NBC News, Sheriff Villanueva said the photos were
brought to his attention by someone who had overheard a trainee deputy
discussing them at a bar.
He said: “That was my number one
priority, to make sure those photos no longer exist.
“We identified the deputies
involved, they came to the station on their own and had admitted they had taken
them and they had deleted them. And we’re content that those involved did
He also told KABC-TV that the deputies were under investigation and could
face disciplinary action.
Only personnel from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and the
coroner’s office were authorized to take photos of the crash scene, Alex
According to NBC News, at least two LA County Fire Department firefighters
also took photos and were ordered to delete them.
The cause of the crash in foggy
weather west of Los Angeles, California, is still being investigated.
Kobe Bryant was on his way to coach
his daughter Gianna’s basketball team in a local youth tournament at the Mamba
Lawyers for Vanessa Bryant have filed a lawsuit against the company that operated the helicopter, accusing the pilot of negligence.
Vanessa Bryant, the widow of NBA legend Kobe
Bryant, is suing the owner of the helicopter that crashed last month, killing
her husband and 13-year-old daughter, Gianna.
Kobe Bryant, Gianna and seven others died when the helicopter they were in
crashed in fog on January 26.
In the lawsuit, Vanessa Bryant says the pilot was negligent for flying in
such poor weather.
The lawsuit was filed shortly before a memorial service held in Los Angeles.
It says that Island Express Helicopters and the pilot, Ara George Zobayan,
had a “duty to use that degree of care that an ordinarily careful and
prudent pilot would use under the same or similar circumstances”.
The lawsuit alleges that the pilot – who died in the crash – did not assess
weather data before taking off.
It also says the pilot did not abort the flight despite the treacherous
Island Express Helicopters authorized the flight “with full knowledge
that the subject helicopter was flying into unsafe weather conditions”,
the complaint says.
Vanessa Bryant is seeking undisclosed compensatory and punitive damages.
The company has suspended operations.
The aircraft – a Sikorsky S-76B – went down into a hillside outside the city
Conditions were foggy when the flight took off, and local police had
grounded their helicopters due to the poor weather.
The pilot asked air traffic controllers for a special clearance, known as
Special Visual Flight Rules, to fly in less than optimal weather, said NTSB
board member Jennifer Homendy, who went to the crash scene to collect evidence.
The helicopter, she added, circled in the air for 12 minutes before being
given the clearance. The pilot then asked controllers for “flight
following”, an assistance given to helicopters to avoid collisions, but
was told the craft was too low to be picked up by radar.
Minutes later, the pilot said he was “climbing to avoid a cloud
layer”, she added. The helicopter climbed and began a left descending
turn, according to radar data, before communication was lost. All those on
board were killed.
Kobe and Gianna Bryant were remembered in a “Celebration of Life”
memorial at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on February 24.
Beyoncé opened the service with her 2013 hit XO, which she said was one of Kobe Bryant’s favorite songs.
Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and Bryant’s former teammate Shaquille O’Neal
were among those attending.
The Staples Center was Kobe Bryant’s home arena for much of his 20-season
career with the Los Angeles Lakers.
Speaking at the event, Vanessa Bryant said of her husband: “He was mine. He was my everything,”
and called her daughter Gianna an “amazingly sweet and gentle
soul” whose smile took up her entire face.
Island Express Helicopters was limited to operating when the pilot was able to see clearly while flying.
There has been no word yet on funeral arrangements.
The cause of the crash in foggy weather west of Los Angeles is still being
Kobe Bryant, 41, was on his way to coach his daughter’s basketball team in a
local youth tournament at the Mamba Sports Academy.
In the Instagram post, Vanessa Bryant also said: “We are completely devastated by the sudden loss of my adoring
husband, Kobe – the amazing father of our children; and my beautiful, sweet
Gianna – a loving, thoughtful, and wonderful daughter, and amazing sister to
Natalia, Bianka, and Capri.”
The devastated wife added: “I
wish they were here with us forever. They were our beautiful blessings taken
from us too soon. I’m not sure what our lives hold beyond today, and it’s
impossible to imagine life without them.”
Vanessa Bryant also thanked for the public support, and announced the formation
of a fund to help support the other families that were affected by the crash,
the Mamba Sports Foundation.
The other victims included the pilot, two other 13-year-old girls involved
in the tournament, three of their parents and another coach.
Kobe Bryant was a five-time NBA champion for his only team,
the Los Angeles Lakers, and a double Olympic gold medalist.
After a 20-year career with the team Kobe Bryant retired in April 2016.
The identities of the other victims
have not yet been released.
In a statement, the City of
Calabasas said it was “with great sadness that we learn of the death of
Kobe Bryant and four others in a helicopter crash”.
The statement added: “The aircraft went down in a remote
field off Las Virgenes around 10:00 this morning. Nobody on the ground was
Gavin Masak, who lives nearby, told
CBS News of the moment the helicopter crashed.
He said: “It wasn’t exactly like an explosion sound but it was like a loud
boom. It sounded like a helicopter, but it sounded like a jet, like it was
loud, so I went inside and told my dad what was happening. So when I came out I
saw smoke on the hill but it wasn’t like a big, black cloud of smoke, it was
Other eyewitnesses told celebrity
news site TMZ they heard the
helicopter’s engine sputtering before it went down.
The LA County Sheriff’s Department
shared pictures from the scene of the accident, showing a fire truck and smoke
emerging from the hills.
The FAA identified the crashed
helicopter as a Sikorsky S-76. It said it was investigating the accident
alongside the NTSB.
Officials are set to give further
details at a press conference at 2PM, local time.
Kobe Bryant played his entire
20-year career with the Los Angeles Lakers. He retired in April 2016.
His achievements include being the
2008 NBA Most Valuable Player and two-time NBA Finals MVP.
Kobe Bryant was also two-time NBA scoring champion and a two-time Olympic champion.
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