June 8, 2023

An assistant to Vanessa Bryant’s family knocked on the door of their Orange County home last year and told her the news: that the helicopter carrying her husband, Kobe Bryant , and daughter, Gianna, had crashed.

“She told me that there was an accident and that there were five survivors,” Vanessa Bryant testified earlier this month. “And I asked her if Gianna and Kobe were OK. And she said she wasn’t sure.”

Bryant called her husband, the retired Lakers legend, but there was no answer. She clung to the idea that there were five survivors as she clamored for more information. Bryant recalled phoning her mother, asking her to come over to watch her youngest two children.

“I was trying to call my husband back,” she testified, “and all these notifications started popping up on my phone, saying RIP Kobe.”

It would be hours before Bryant was officially told of the deaths of her husband and daughter, according to a newly disclosed deposition in which the wife of the late NBA Hall of Fame player detailed her account of the tragic day. Lawyers for Vanessa Bryant filed the partially redacted excerpt of her deposition in court this week as part of her lawsuit against Los Angeles County.

Bryant sued L.A. County last year, alleging that she and her family have suffered severe emotional distress after learning that L.A. County sheriff’s deputies snapped and later shared gruesome photos of the crash scene where her husband, daughter and seven others died.

Bryant’s legal team is trying to compel the depositions of Sheriff Alex Villanueva and L.A. County Fire Chief Daryl Osby. Meanwhile, county lawyers are seeking to force the widow to undergo an independent medical examination in advance of a trial scheduled for February 2022 at the federal courthouse in downtown L.A.

Lawyers for the county contend that Bryant cannot be suffering from such severe distress from crash photos she has never seen and that were never shared publicly, and they want a psychiatric exam to prove their argument.

“The fact remains that no crash site photos taken by first responders have ever been publicly disseminated, as Ms. Bryant confirmed in her deposition,” said Skip Miller, a prominent Century City lawyer whose boutique firm was retained to defend L.A. County.

“We totally sympathize with the enormous loss she has suffered. But as a legal matter, we don’t believe she could be harmed by something that didn’t occur.”

Bryant’s lawyers have fired back, saying that an invasive medical exam is not necessary and that her distress is plainly evident from her own testimony.

“The County’s tactics are simply a cruel attempt to extract a price for victims to obtain accountability,” Bryant’s legal team wrote in a court filing. “Rather than take accountability for conduct the Sheriff himself has called ‘wildly inappropriate’ and ‘disgusting,’ the County has chosen to pull out all the stops to make the case as painful as possible.”

Bryant’s lawyers point to her own words during the Oct. 12 deposition in which she was questioned by Miller, the outside attorney for the county.

Bryant detailed that after the flurry of notifications saying “RIP Kobe,” she went to pick up her daughter Natalia, who had been attending a college entrance exam prep class that morning.

“I told her that Daddy and Gigi were in an accident. Not to worry. I’m sure they’re fine because there’s five survivors,” Bryant recalled telling her daughter. “And I’m sure Daddy and Gigi are fine. I just felt, I knew that they would be helping people.”

Bryant recalled rushing then to the airport, where she tried to board a helicopter so she could quickly fly from Orange County to Calabasas, where the helicopter carrying her husband, daughter and seven others had gone down.

That plan was quickly scuttled, with the owner of one of the helicopters telling Bryant, “I can’t fly you. The weather conditions are too bad.”

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