Photos taken at the scene of the fatal helicopter crash that killed NBA legend Kobe Bryant, his daughter and seven others were shared by a Los Angeles County firefighter during the cocktail hour at an awards ceremony a month after the crash, according to testimony.
On Wednesday, the trial began for a federal civil lawsuit filed by Bryant’s widow, Vanessa Bryant, who alleges that photos from the January 2020 crash were shared by county fire and sheriff’s department employees in settings irrelevant to the investigation, including at a bar.
Former emergency medical technician and wife of a Los Angeles firefighter, Luella Weireter, testified in court Friday that during the Radio and Television News Association of Southern California’s Golden Mike Awards in February 2020, she saw LA County Firefighter Tony Imbrenda share photos of Bryant’s remains . and other photos from the scene of the accident with ceremony participants.
Many firefighters attended the media event, which also honored the fire department’s public information officers for their work in informing the public about wildfires.
After a small group of people at her table gathered to look at pictures on a cell phone, in what Weireter characterized as a party trick, she testified to seeing a firefighter break away from the group, saying, “I can’t believe I looked right on Kobe’s burned out body and now I’m about to eat.”
After that comment, Vanessa Bryant could be seen in the courtroom with her head in her hands, rocking back and forth and crying.
Weireter is the cousin of Keri Altobelli, who along with her husband John and daughter Alyssa also died in the helicopter crash.
About two weeks after the award ceremony, Weireter drove to a county fire station in Malibu and filed an official complaint with a battalion chief, she testified. That same day, the LA County Fire Chief called her to follow up.
On Thursday afternoon, Vanessa Bryant walked out of court during testimony describing photos taken at the scene of the accident. She became emotional when Victor Gutierrez, a bartender, was asked if he had seen the body of her daughter, Gianna Bryant, in the photos. Gutierrez had described what he saw in the photos shown by a Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputy at a bar on an earlier date.
Bryant cried, stood up, and her attorney asked the president for permission for Bryant to leave the courtroom.
Bryant did not return for the rest of Gutierrez’s testimony, which continued with a series of surveillance clips from the bar he worked at on Jan. 28, 2020 — two days after the crash and a month before the awards ceremony. Gutierrez described being shaken by the images and then admitted to telling the condition of the victims’ bodies to five sets of people.
The trial is expected to last about two weeks, and witnesses are likely to include Vanessa Bryant and LA County Sheriff Alex Villanueva. The suit, filed in September 2020, seeks undisclosed damages and alleges civil rights violations, negligence, emotional distress and invasion of privacy.
A jury of six women and four men was selected for the case. They include a nun, someone who works in television production for NBC Universal, a college student, a real estate investor, a pharmaceutical researcher, a computer science professor, and a restaurant host.