A top LA County coroner described in graphic testimony what Kobe Bryant's body looked like to give the jury an idea of what the crash-site photos may have shown

·3 min read
Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna Bryant attend a basketball game between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Atlanta Hawks at Staples Center on November 17, 2019 in Los Angeles, California.
Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna Bryant on November 17, 2019.Allen Berezovsky/Getty Images
  • A coroner testified in Vanessa Bryant's suit against LA County over helicopter-crash photos of Kobe.

  • Capt. Emily Tauscher gave graphic testimony about the post-crash condition of each victim's body.

  • She offered insight into the grisly scene to give a sense of what photos of the site would show.

A top Los Angeles County coroner on Thursday testified in graphic detail about the state of Kobe Bryant's body following the 2020 helicopter crash that killed all nine passengers, including the basketball legend and his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna Bryant.

Testimony from Capt. Emily Tauscher, the head of investigations at the LA County coroner's office, took center stage on the second day of the trial between Vanessa Bryant and Los Angeles County. Bryant filed a lawsuit against the county and other defendants over allegations that LA sheriff's deputies and Los Angeles County Fire Department captains took and shared photos of the helicopter crash site in late January 2020.

Tauscher painted a gruesome picture of the crash site, offering detailed insight into the grisly scene that would've been captured in the photos. She also discussed the photo practices of the coroner's office — describing a more ad-hoc approach to site photography in the sheriff's department's system that could've allowed photos to be taken and shared.

On January 26, 2020, a helicopter transporting Kobe Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter, and the baseball coach John Altobelli and his family crashed near Malibu, California, as they were heading to a girls basketball game. All nine people aboard, including the pilot, Ara Zobayan, died in the crash.

In September 2020, Vanessa Bryant sued the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, the county's fire department, the county as a whole, and eight officers in the wake of reports that first responders took and shared photos of the January 2020 crash site.

Chris Chester, whose wife, Sarah, and daughter Payton died in the crash, is also suing county workers on the same claims and will have a consolidated nine-day trial alongside Bryant's against the county.

Tauscher, a key witness for Bryant and Chester, delivered exceptionally detailed and graphic testimony about the post-crash condition of each victim's body, providing jurors with a mental image of what photos of the site would show. Both Bryant and Chester left the courtroom ahead of her testimony.

Tauscher testified that human remains from the crash were scattered over 500 yards, which created an impact zone larger than two football fields while a magnesium fire from the crash was aflame. The majority of the victims had to be scientifically identified because their wounds were so extreme, she said. Kobe Bryant was partially identified by his skin tone and tattoos on his arm, Tauscher testified.

She told the courtroom that the coroner's office did not invite the families to identify their loved ones after the crash because of the intense and unidentifiable nature of their condition.

"What someone looks like in death is very different than in life," she said. "Seeing someone you love in that state would create an image that stays with them forever."

Tauscher testified that the coroner's office took about 1,250 photos of the crash site, about 300 of which were of human remains. She also said the coroner's office never requested that either the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department or Los Angeles County Fire Department take photos of the remains.

David Katz, the team leader of LASD Malibu Search and Rescue, previously testified Doug Johnson, an LASD deputy, had alone taken hundreds of photos with his cellphone.

Vanessa Bryant's suit is seeking punitive damages from the county defendants. She is suing the county over claims of negligence, emotional distress, and invasion of privacy, as well as allegations on the federal level that relate to her constitutional right to the images of her deceased loved ones and LA County agency practices that may have led to the taking and dissemination of photos.

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