Kobe Bryant fatal crash: trial over graphic photos starts with brutal opening statements

play article
Subscribers can listen to this article
Kobe Bryant
Kobe Bryant
Photo: Ronald Cortes/Getty Images
  • "January 26, 2020, was and always will be the worst day of Vanessa Bryant's life," lawyer Luis Li said on Wednesday.
  • Li read out his opening statements in court as the trial began over the graphic photos taken by first responders at the crash site where Kobe Bryant died.
  • The basketball legend, his teenage daughter and several others died in January 2020 when their chopper smashed into a hillside near Los Angeles.

A court case brought by Kobe Bryant's widow over graphic photographs taken by first responders at the site of the helicopter crash that killed him got under way in the United States on Wednesday.

The basketball superstar and his teenage daughter were among nine people who died when their chopper smashed into a hillside near Los Angeles in January 2020.

Vanessa Bryant alleges she suffered emotional distress because personnel from the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department and firefighters snapped pictures of the scene, which they later shared with friends and first responders.

"At least 11 (sheriff's) personnel and a dozen firefighters shared the photos within 24 hours of the crash," Bryant's attorneys wrote in court papers.

"In the following weeks, one (sheriff's) deputy flaunted photos of remains at a bar, another texted photos to a group of video game buddies, and (county fire) personnel displayed photos at an awards gala."

January 26, 2020, was and always will be the worst day of Vanessa Bryant's life. County employees exploited the accident. They took and shared pictures of Kobe and Gianna as souvenirs…They poured salt in an unhealable wound... [First responders] walked around the wreckage and took pictures of broken bodies from the helicopter crash. They took close-ups of limbs, of burnt flesh. It shocks the conscience. He then let the jury hear audio of an officer stating that his wife did not want to see the images after he said they were "piles of meat," according to Rolling Stone.
-- Vanessa Bryant's lawyer Luis Li says in his opening statements at Wednesday's trial

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.

Mira Hashmall, representing the county in the civil litigation, said the case 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."

Vanessa Bryant's case has been combined with a similar case brought by Chris Chester, whose wife and 13-year-old daughter also died in the crash.

A jury of six women and four men were selected Wednesday, CNN reported.

Relatives of several 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 recognised 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, after which he began building a lucrative business portfolio.

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For 14 free days, you can have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today. Thereafter you will be billed R75 per month. You can cancel anytime and if you cancel within 14 days you won't be billed. 
Subscribe to News24
Editorial feedback and complaints

Contact the public editor with feedback for our journalists, complaints, queries or suggestions about articles on News24.