CALABASAS, Calif. (NewsNation Now) — It’s been two years since NBA legend Kobe Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven others died in a fiery crash when their helicopter plunged into a Southern California hillside.
On Jan. 26, 2020, the group of nine was traveling to a youth basketball tournament when their helicopter crashed into the steep hillside in the dense morning fog just outside Los Angeles, prompting an outpouring of shock and grief from around the world.
Aboard the plane was: Bryant, 41, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna; John Altobelli, 56, his wife Keri Altobelli, 46, their daughter and teammate of Gianna’s Alyssa Altobelli, 14; Christina Mauser, 38; Sarah Chester, 45, her daughter and teammate of Gianna’s Payton Chester, 13; and pilot Ara Zobayan, 50.
Two years later, most questions about the cause of the crash have been answered, but lawsuits and turmoil over the aftermath continue.
Federal safety officials announced the probable cause last February, concluding that the pilot flew through clouds in an apparent violation of federal standards and became disoriented before the crash. NTSB published the final 86-page report detailing discoveries found in the year-long investigation.
On the day a massive memorial service was held at the Staples Center (now the Crypto.com Arena), where Bryant played most of his career, Vanessa Bryant sued Zobayan and the companies that owned and operated the helicopter for negligence and the wrongful deaths of her husband and daughter. Families of other victims sued the helicopter companies but not the pilot.
Vanessa Bryant said Island Express Helicopters Inc., which operated the aircraft, and its owner, Island Express Holding Corp., did not properly train or supervise Zobayan. She said the pilot was careless and negligent to fly in fog and should have aborted the flight. Vanessa Bryant settled the lawsuit last year.
Since the crash, new laws have been passed including one that makes it a crime for first responders to take unauthorized photos of deceased people at the scene of an accident or crime.
At least eight Los Angeles County deputies were accused of taking or sharing graphic photos of the crash scene, Sheriff Alex Villanueva said. He quickly ordered deputies to delete the images. Later it was learned that a county fire captain showed images to off-duty firefighters and a deputy showed images to patrons in a bar. Villaneuva said the department has a policy against taking and sharing crime scene photos, but it did not apply to accident scenes.
Vanessa Bryant filed the lawsuit last year claiming she and her family suffered emotional distress over the sharing of the gruesome photographs. Earlier this month, lawyers for Los Angeles County failed to persuade a judge to end the lawsuit, with the judge saying that, “There are genuine issues of material facts for trial.”
“The close-up photos of Gianna and Kobe’s remains were passed around on at least 28 LASD devices and by at least a dozen firefighters,” the plaintiff’s attorneys wrote. “And that was only the beginning. The gratuitous sharing continued in the following days and weeks and included such outrageous conduct as flaunting the photos in a bar while pantomiming dismemberment and showing off the photos over cocktails at an awards gala.”
The trial is set to begin in February.
Widely considered one of the greatest NBA players of all time, Bryant played his entire 20-year career with the Lakers. He won five NBA Championships, famously winning three championships in a row alongside Shaquille O’Neal.
He was the Lakers all-time leading scorer and two-time Olympic goal medalist. Bryant made the NBA All-Star team 18 times and received the MVP award four times before his retirement in 2016. Bryant is the only player in NBA history to have two jersey numbers retired from the same team. Bryant changed numbers from 8 to 24 halfway through his career.
Bryant coined himself the “Black Mamba” and became known for his hardworking mindset – the Mamba mentality.
Bryant lived in Orange County, just south of Los Angeles, and regularly traveled by helicopter to avoid the city’s infamous traffic. He traveled to practices and games by helicopter before his playing career ended. He continued to use them after retirement as he attended to his new ventures, which included a burgeoning entertainment company that produced an Academy Award-winning animated short film.
Bryant had been a vocal booster of women’s sports since his retirement, coaching and mentoring basketball players around the world while also backing women’s soccer and other endeavors. Before his death, Bryant had helped coach Gianna’s eighth-grade club team at his Mamba Sports Academy.
Bryant married Vanessa Bryant in 2001. The pair had four daughters: Natalia, Gianna, Bianka and Capri.
There were periods of separation between the pair. In 2003, Bryant was arrested in connection with a Colorado sexual assault after a hotel worker accused him of rape. Bryant denied assaulting the worker but admitted to having consensual sex with her. The case was dropped when the woman refused to testify against Bryant.
Gianna, better known as Gigi, had a promising youth basketball career and a competitive pugnaciousness that reminded everybody of her dad. Coined the “Mambacita,” Gigi was expected to continue her father’s basketball legacy.