Vanessa Bryant gave a nearly 3-hour testimony on Friday in which she recalled the moment she learned emergency personnel allegedly shared with unauthorized people graphic images of her husband Kobe and daughter Gianna following the pair's deaths in a helicopter crash in January 2020.
The 40-year-old widow is suing Los Angeles County for emotional distress and mental anguish concerning the purported images. At the time of the crash, Kobe and Gianna were traveling to a youth basketball game with seven others.
Bryant 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.
Taking the stand for the first time, Bryant said in her emotional testimony that she was devastated after hearing of the allegations in a Los Angeles Times article in February 2020.
Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times via Getty Vanessa Bryant arrives at Federal Court to testify Friday
"I just remember not wanting to react because the girls were in the room," Bryant said, referencing the three other children she shares with Kobe — Capri, 3, Bianka, 5, and Natalia, 19.
"I bolted out of the house and I broke down and cried and I just wanted to run down the block and scream," Bryant continued. "I can't escape my body. I can't escape what I feel."
Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times via Getty
Bryant's testimony comes a day after Chris appeared in court and spoke publicly about the crash for the first time.
The 48-year-old recalled how the weekend of the crash, he and Sarah decided she would go with Payton to her basketball games while he would take their twin boys' to a lacrosse tournament. Chris ultimately found out about the crash while driving to Lost Hills sheriff's station after texts to Payton and Sarah went unanswered that morning.
"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 eery feeling." He 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."
Chris 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.
Ever since, Chris 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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During the trial, former Los Angeles fire captain Brian Jordan 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.
Former bartender Victor Gutierrez also testified that he was shown photos of Kobe's body by deputy trainee Joey Cruz during his bartending shift, per USA Today.
Nearly a dozen witnesses have taken the stand during the first eight days of the trial, from sheriffs to first responders to witnesses who say they saw law enforcement improperly sharing photos from the crash site.
L.A. County had tried to dismiss Bryant's lawsuit in Dec. 2021, but a judge refused their request. In her declaration filed in response to a motion, Bryant said she's felt "tremendous pain and distress."