Vanessa Bryant 'Asphyxiated' with Horror Crash Photos May Someday Leak, Lawyer Says in Closing

Vanessa Bryant arrives at Federal Court to testify Friday in the lawsuit over graphic photos taken by first responders at the scene of the helicopter crash that killed her husband, basketball legend Kobe Bryant, their teenage daughter and seven others. Bryant photographed at her arrival at U.S. Federal Courthouse on Friday, Aug. 19, 2022 in Los Angeles, CA.
Vanessa Bryant arrives at Federal Court to testify Friday in the lawsuit over graphic photos taken by first responders at the scene of the helicopter crash that killed her husband, basketball legend Kobe Bryant, their teenage daughter and seven others. Bryant photographed at her arrival at U.S. Federal Courthouse on Friday, Aug. 19, 2022 in Los Angeles, CA.

Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times via Getty

A lawyer for Vanessa Bryant on Tuesday delivered a powerful closing argument in her civil case against Los Angeles County over pictures taken and shared from the 2020 helicopter crash site where her husband, Kobe, and daughter, Gianna, were killed.

On behalf of Vanessa, attorney Craig Lavoie opened his statement with a reminder that Kobe would have turned 44 years old Tuesday if he was still alive. "Forty-four years ago today in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Kobe Bryant was born. Today is his birthday," Lavoie began, adding what an honor it is to represent Vanessa. He asked for "justice and accountability" for Kobe and Gianna, who would have turned 16 in May.

Lavoie described the January 2020 helicopter accident as "devastating and life-shattering" before he condemned the conduct of the sheriff and fire department defendants, "who were supposed to protect the dignity of those who perished on that hillside." More than once during his closing statements, Lavoie said the behavior "shocks the conscience."

Vanessa is "haunted by the idea that the images could come out" and is unable to "calm down" from the anxiety, said Lavoie. "She feels asphyxiated," he stated, before asking the jury, "How much can a person bear?" There is a "chance the photos could someday surface," according to Lavoie, who asked what the percentage of that occurring is, before he concluded, "Whatever each of us thinks that number is, it's definitely not zero."

Vanessa Bryant arrives at Federal Court to testify Friday in the lawsuit over graphic photos taken by first responders at the scene of the helicopter crash that killed her husband, basketball legend Kobe Bryant, their teenage daughter and seven others. Bryant photographed at her arrival at U.S. Federal Courthouse on Friday, Aug. 19, 2022 in Los Angeles, CA.
Vanessa Bryant arrives at Federal Court to testify Friday in the lawsuit over graphic photos taken by first responders at the scene of the helicopter crash that killed her husband, basketball legend Kobe Bryant, their teenage daughter and seven others. Bryant photographed at her arrival at U.S. Federal Courthouse on Friday, Aug. 19, 2022 in Los Angeles, CA.

Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times via Getty Vanessa Bryant arrives at Federal Court to testify Friday

Lavoie added, "The truth is, the county has no idea who had the photos and who they sent them to." At least nine first responders had them originally, he noted.

Vanessa and Chris Chester, who lost his wife Sarah and their 13-year-old daughter Payton in the accident, claim photographs of the victims' bodies were publicly shared on at least 28 devices owned by the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department and by more than a dozen first responders.

Co-plaintiff Chester was represented by Jerry Jackson, who also delivered his closing arguments Tuesday after Vanessa's lawyer. "I'm not going to start this fight, but I'm going to finish it," began Jackson, who said the defendants stole the privacy and the dignity of these victims and their families. "And they did it cruelly," he added. "They did it inhumanely and then they laughed about it, lied about it, and tried to cover it up. They couldn't keep their stories straight."

RELATED: Fire Captain Says the Trauma of Photographing Kobe Bryant Crash Site Still Haunts Him: 'Horrifying'

Jackson told the jury Chester is "fighting to get his life back" from this tragedy, which "compounded his already overwhelming grief." Jurors were asked to consider the lifelong impact the defendant's actions will have on the victims' families. "The defense has no right to say they have nothing to worry about. As long as they're alive, they'll always have someone claiming to have these photos."

Jackson asked for damages of a combined $75 million for both families.

Vanessa took the stand on Friday to give an emotional three-hour testimony about what she experienced following the deaths of her husband and daughter. She said she felt helpless after learning members of the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department and other emergency personnel allegedly shared graphic images of Kobe, Gianna, and the seven other victims of the January 2020 accident.

RELATED VIDEO: Inside Vanessa Bryant's Heartbreaking and Powerful Testimony About Kobe and Gianna's Deaths

"I want to remember my husband and my daughter the way that they were," explained Vanessa, who also shares Capri, 3, Bianka, 5, and Natalia, 19, with Kobe. "I don't ever want to see these photographs. I have three little girls!" The revelation, she told a Federal Court, has caused her to "live in fear every day of being on social media and having these photos pop up."

While on the stand, the 40-year-old recalled visiting the Lost Hills Sheriff Station the morning of the accident and asking Sheriff Alex Villanueva to protect the Calabasas crash site from the paparazzi. "If you can't bring my babies back, can you please secure the area?" Vanessa recalled telling Villanueva at the station.

Just three days later, the photo-sharing allegations amongst the first responders came to light in an article in the Los Angeles Times published on Feb. 27, 2020. "I trusted them not to do these things," the bereaved mother said during her testimony, adding that she was angry with the sheriff and fire departments for not telling her about the pictures being shared.

RELATED: Vanessa Bryant Excuses Herself from Court as Witness Testifies to Seeing Crash Photos from Kobe's Death

On Monday, Vanessa was accompanied by friends Ciara and Monica, as well as 19-year-old daughter Natalia Diamante, who sat behind her during testimony from an internal affairs officer with the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department. They accompanied her outside during an emotional moment.

During his testimony, Chester recounted learning about the crash while driving to Lost Hills sheriff's station after texts to Payton and Sarah went unanswered. "Lots of things were going through my head, but I thought I was going to a hospital," he explained, believing Payton and Sarah would be injured but still alive. But the station was alarmingly quiet, he said, and "I had started to get an eerie feeling."

Chester was taken to an area with the other families, including Vanessa, where they were eventually told that there were no survivors. "It was heavy," he said. "My life will never be the same."

Chester said he was told that all of the photos taken by the coroner and National Transportation Safety Board — who investigate aviation crashes — would be secured. However, he said he was in disbelief after hearing the sheriff's department members had taken and publicly shared photos from the crash scene.

Kobe Bryant helicopter crash other victims: Sarah Chester and daughter Payton Instagram no credit
Kobe Bryant helicopter crash other victims: Sarah Chester and daughter Payton Instagram no credit

Facebook Payton and Sarah Chester

Ever since, Chester said, he has suffered high anxiety at the thought of the images leaking to the public. He has also suffered from depression since the crash, he said.

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Former Los Angeles fire captain Brian Jordan took the stand during the trial, where he said the trauma of seeing the remains of the accident pushed him to retire. Jordan is accused of taking graphic, closely-cropped photos of body parts on the scene but testified that he was only doing as he was instructed. "It was horrifying and what put me off the job," he said.

Los Angeles County previously tried to dismiss Vanessa's lawsuit in December 2021, but a judge refused their request. In her declaration filed in response to a motion, Vanessa said she's felt "tremendous pain and distress."

The January 2020 helicopter crash also claimed the lives of 14-year-old Alyssa AltobelliKeri Altobelli, 46, John Altobelli, 56, Christina Mauser, 38, and pilot Ara Zobayan, 50.

The trial will continue on Wednesday with closing arguments for the defense.