The basketball icon, Kobe, and his daughter Gianna, who tragically lost their lives in the helicopter accident in January 2020, were discussed by a former bartender from a local Mexican eatery, leading to Vanessa Bryant breaking down in tears and leaving a federal courtroom on Thursday. This emotional reaction was triggered by the display of graphic images depicting the wreckage.
Following the collision, 48 hours later, a trainee from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department arrived at his eatery and presented him with photographs of the accident site. Bryant departed the courtroom once the ex-bartender had finished his testimony.
They were horrifying.
One of the attorneys at Bryant’s, Lavoie Jennings Craig, inquired, “Did you comprehend that you can see a human torso in the photo of Kobe Bryant?”
“Indeed,” responded Victor Gutierrez, the ex-bartender.
This was the 2nd day of the civil trial against Bryant in Los Angeles County. Witnesses, including a former bartender from Norwalk, provided graphic details from the crash scene during their testimony.
Gutierrez said that Joey Cruz, the trainee deputy, inquired at his bar that evening if he was interested in viewing a picture of Kobe Bryant’s remains.
“Did you also notice if there was a young lady in any of the photographs?” Lavoie inquired.
“They were simply fragments,” Gutierrez stated. “I am unaware of their gender, whether they were males or females.”
Despite not having a reason, Bryant cried when he returned on Thursday and left again. He accused the fire department and county sheriff’s employees of sharing and taking photos of her deceased loved ones from the crash scene.
The pictures were erased shortly after the incident and never shared on the internet, despite the county claiming that their privacy was infringed upon by the county’s actions. Both of them are currently seated before a panel consisting of six male and four female jurors, who will be responsible for making a decision.
Following the captivating introductory statements on Wednesday, the events of Thursday provided the jury with a great deal of material to contemplate.
The barkeeper on video
In the upcoming week, Cruz is anticipated to give testimony, however, Gutierrez provided his version of their exchanges that evening on Thursday. The jury was presented with multiple surveillance video clips from the Norwalk bar on the night Cruz paid a visit.
He spoke to them and gestured with his hand towards his throat, torso, and head. Gutierrez also showed the video to other patrons at the restaurant, approaching them. After looking at Cruz’s phone, Gutierrez reacted with laughter. The video did not include the audio of their voices.
Lavoie indicated that he was discussing the state of the bodies he observed in the photographs from Cruz.
He often testified that Gutierrez didn’t remember what he said that night to different people. He remembers few things, but he never laughed about the photos.
After examining the photographs of the accident, including a humorous video that was not relevant, he proposed that his laughter in the video could have been a response to something else he observed on Cruz’s phone. “You must be mentally unstable to behave like that,” he remarked.
MORE: Day 1 of Vanessa Bryant’s trial: Crying, testimonies, and information about the fatal accident.
Lakers General Manager Rob Pelinka cries during his testimony at the trial.
After filing a complaint with the sheriff’s department, Ralph Mendez, a real estate investor, told Sheriff Gutierrez about the people shown in the photos on his table. Another patron who testified, Gutierrez stated that it was at the restaurant that night where Mendez took a stand.
That grievance ultimately resulted in this legal proceeding.
On Thursday, Mendez recounted his response to what Gutierrez informed him that evening.
Mendez expressed, “I couldn’t believe everything I heard,” describing it as a “betrayal of trust” by Cruz, a law enforcement officer entrusted with protecting the community. I was in disbelief when I heard everything too,” Mendez added. Later that night, Mendez filed a complaint on the sheriff’s website about the incident that occurred in his driveway.
The subject line under “Kobe” said, “There was a complaint about pictures showing the decapitated body of a deputy who was at the Baja California Grill and Bar in Norwalk.”
Valdez refuted having knowledge of it when questioned by a reporter from the Los Angeles Times before the complaint became widely known in February 2020. Mendez was subsequently approached regarding the complaint by Jorge Valdez, a captain in the sheriff’s department.
The court played the audio recording of that interview for the jury.
“I have no knowledge of any complaint,” Valdez stated in the audio recording from February 2020.
When asked about this in court on Thursday, Mendez labeled Valdez as dishonest.
“He’s not telling the truth,” stated Mendez.
Obtaining horrifying specifics
Earlier in the day, Bryant stayed out of the courtroom during testimony from a captain of the county coroner’s office, Emily Tauscher.
Tauscher was brought to the witness stand on Thursday following the high-speed collision, where she provided explicit descriptions of the victims’ severely injured state. Unlike the sheriff’s and fire departments, the coroner’s office had the responsibility of handling over 1,000 victims. It should be noted that the coroner’s office is not facing any allegations of misusing photographs from the crash site.
However, they are also extracting vivid information from witnesses in a public courtroom regarding the images and the state of the bodies from the accident scene – to the extent that Bryant refrained from entering the courtroom on two occasions due to it. Her testimony emphasized a harsh paradox in relation to this particular case. The lawyers representing Bryant and Chester express that their clients experience constant dread of these horrifying death photographs resurfacing in the future and are deeply troubled by such thoughts.
This is being carried out for a purpose, as per Bryant’s legal representative, Luis Li.
Li stated in a court filing on Wednesday that the plaintiffs are required to provide witness testimony regarding the content of the defendants’ photos since those photos were either erased or not properly stored. Additionally, the defendants from the (county) refute the claim that the photos captured and distributed by their staff showed the remains of the plaintiffs’ family members.
Pelinka completes his testimony
The trial commenced on Wednesday with the initial testimony of Rob Pelinka, the general manager of the Lakers. He took the stand as the first witness and provided approximately 40 minutes of testimony.
“She was uncertain about whether she could continue, considering that her children might come across the accident photos if Bryant mentioned that he testified.”
“It would be a visual representation that I could never erase from my mind,” but in the event that he actually did, he claimed that he did not come across any pictures of that nature.
And he would desire their permanent absence.
“I would like them annihilated and eliminated from existence,” Pelinka stated.
The photographs seem to no longer exist since the county has claimed that they were erased for comparable purposes – to prevent their further dissemination and safeguard the families of the victims.