The morning started for Vanessa Bryant the way most weekends do for parents with busy children. One of her daughters was at a college prep class. Her husband was taking another daughter to a basketball game. She stayed home with the two youngest girls, a toddler and a newborn. But then a family assistant knocked on the door around 11:30 a.m.
that Sunday and told Bryant that her husband, Kobe Bryant, and their daughter Gianna had been in a helicopter accident, according to a transcript of a deposition of Bryant in a lawsuit between her and Los Angeles County. The assistant said that five people had survived the crash that day, Jan. 26, 2020. Bryant said that she figured Kobe and Gianna would be among them and would be helping the other victims. But as she tried to call her husband, notifications began popping up on her phone: R.I.P. Kobe. R.I.P. Kobe.
“My life will never be the same without my husband and daughter,” Bryant said during the deposition. It would be hours before Bryant would learn, officially, that Kobe, 41, and Gianna, 13, had been killed along with seven others in a crash just outside Los Angeles. In her rush to get to the crash site, before she learned of their deaths, Bryant went to an airport in an attempt to secure a helicopter to take her — but was rebuffed because she was told the weather made it unsafe to fly.
These and many other details of that day have become public for the first time through questions Bryant answered during a videoconferencing meeting with a lawyer defending Los Angeles County. She is suing the county and some of its agencies and employees for emotional distress she said was caused by emergency medical workers who took and shared photos of the human remains at the helicopter crash site.
Kobe Bryant, the retired Los Angeles Lakers superstar, had been on his way to coach Gianna in a series of games at his Mamba Sports Academy in Thousand Oaks, Calif. Vanessa Bryant’s deposition comes at a crucial point in the case and amid an escalating battle between the lawyers over the scope of what Los Angeles County and the other defendants can request of Bryant, other plaintiffs and witnesses.
One of the most contentious issues, the subject of numerous court filings in recent days, is whether the county can conduct what are called independent medical examinations, which involve psychiatric evaluations, of each of the plaintiffs.
Bryant’s lawyers argue that the examinations are “cruel” and that the county is sending a message by requesting them. “When public servants violate the privacy and constitutional rights of the citizens they swore to protect and serve, the victims must run a gauntlet to seek justice,” Bryant’s lawyers argued in one of the filings.
But the county contends that the examinations are “a routine part of the discovery process,” according to filings. Bryant and the other plaintiffs are arguing that they suffered emotional distress because of the actions of county employees, and the county believes a medical professional should be allowed to examine the extent of that suffering.
At times, Louis Miller, an attorney representing Los Angeles County, expressed remorse for asking Bryant invasive questions. “It’s not harassment,” Miller said at one point. “It’s just a lawsuit. And I’m so sorry to put you through this, but like I said at the beginning, I’ve got to do my job.”
“I shouldn’t have to be going through this,” Bryant responded. “It’s not just a lawsuit.” Bryant said that after she was told that she could not fly to the crash site, she met up with Rob Pelinka, the Lakers general manager who served as Kobe’s agent during part of his N.B.A. career. Pelinka, Bryant said, drove them during the hour-and-forty-five-minute trip to the sheriff’s station in Malibu, near the crash site.
At the sheriff’s station, Bryant said “no one would answer” questions about her husband and daughter. She was escorted back and forth between rooms, and after a long wait, she said, a pastor walked in and then Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva came with a publicist. Bryant said she wanted privacy and asked the publicist to leave the room.