- A coroner testified in Vanessa Bryant’s trial against LA County for helicopter crash site photos of Kobe.
- Captain Emily Tauscher delivered graphic testimony about the post-crash condition of each victim’s body.
- She offered insight into the grisly scene likely captured in improper crash photos taken and shared.
A top Los Angeles County coroner on Thursday testified in graphic detail about the state of Kobe Bryant’s body following the 2020 helicopter crash that killed all nine passengers on board, including the basketball legend and his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna Bryant.
Testimony from Captain Emily Tauscher, head of investigations at the LA County Coroner’s office, took center stage on the second day of Vanessa Bryant’s trial against Los Angeles County after LA Sheriff’s Deputies and LA County Fire Captains took and shared photos of the helicopter crash site in late January 2020.
Tauscher painted a gruesome picture of the crash site, offering detailed insight into the grisly scene that was likely captured in the photos taken by LA County sheriff’s deputies and fire captains. She also discussed the coroner’s office’s photo practices — highlighting a more ad-hoc approach to site photography in the sheriff’s department’s system that allowed the improper photos to be taken and shared.
On January 26, 2020, a helicopter transporting Kobe Bryant, the couple’s 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, as well as baseball coach John Altobelli and his family crashed near Malibu as they were heading to a girls basketball game. All nine aboard, including pilot Ara Zobayan, died in the crash.
In September 2020, Vanessa Bryant sued the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, the county’s fire department, the county as a whole, and eight officers in the wake of reports that first responders took and shared photos of the January 2020 crash site.
Chris Chester, whose wife Sarah and daughter Peyton died in the crash, is also suing county workers on the same federal and state claims and will have a consolidated 9-day trial alongside Bryant against the county.
Tauscher, a key witness for Bryant and Chester, delivered exceptionally detailed and graphic testimony about the post-crash condition of each victim’s body, providing jurors with a mental image of the photos allegedly captured by the defendants. Both Bryant and Chester left the courtroom ahead of her testimony.
Tauscher testified that human remains from the crash were scattered over 500 yards, creating an impact zone that was larger than two football fields while a magnesium fire from the crash was aflame. The majority of the victims had to be scientifically identified because their wounds were so extreme, she said. Kobe Bryant was partially identified by his skin tone and tattoos on his arm, Tauscher testified.
She told the courtroom that the coroner’s office did not invite the families to identify their loved ones after the crash because of how intense and unidentifiable the condition of the remains were.
“What someone looks like in death is very different than in life,” she said. “Seeing someone you love in that state would create an image that stays with them forever.”
Tauscher testified that the coroner’s office took about 1,250 photos of the crash site, approximately 300 of which were of human remains. She also confirmed that the coroner’s office had never requested either LASD or LACFD to take photos of the remains.
David Katz, team leader of the LASD Malibu Search and Rescue, had previously testified that LASD Deputy Doug Johnson alone had taken hundreds of photos on his cell phone.
Bryant’s suit is seeking punitive damages from the county defendants. She is suing the county for negligence, emotional distress, and invasion of privacy claims as well as federal claims which relate to the constitutional right to the images of her deceased loved ones, and LA County agency practices that led to the alleged taking and dissemination of photos.
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