Photo-sharing of Kobe crash scene at the center of trial – Los Angeles Times


Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Thursday, Aug. 11, 2022. I’m Times staff writer Gale Holland coming at you from Echo Park.

In the hours after the January 2020 helicopter crash that killed Lakers legend Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna and seven others, Bryant’s widow, Vanessa, met with Sheriff Alex Villanueva at the Lost Hills station in Calabasas and implored him: If you can’t bring my husband and baby back, please make sure no one takes photographs of them.

Despite the sheriff’s assurances, photos of the crash carnage were texted and AirDropped among L.A. County sheriff’s deputies and firefighters. Photos were flashed from a phone screen to a bartender in Norwalk. They were shown to firefighters at an awards gala at the Hilton Hotel in Universal City.

And now they’re at the center of a heated civil trial that began Wednesday over how far the images spread and the pain they brought to families who lost loved ones in the wreck.

[[Read “Vanessa Bryant is ‘haunted’ by the sharing of Kobe crash photos,” Los Angeles Times.]]

Vanessa Bryant and Chris Chester — whose wife, Sarah, and daughter, Payton, died in the crash — sat at the plaintiffs’ table of the downtown L.A. courtroom as their attorneys delivered emotional opening statements to jurors. At times, Bryant hid her face in her hands and wiped her eyes with tissues.

“She will be haunted by what they did forever,” her attorney Luis Li told the jury.

Lawyers representing Los Angeles County contend that the photos were necessary to identify the helicopter and convey to other first responders the extent of the wreckage so that they could properly contain the scene. When sheriff’s officials got wind that the photos were shared inappropriately, they took swift action to have them destroyed, said Mira Hashmall, an attorney representing the county.

“Those pictures are nowhere,” Hashmall said, adding that they were never published online, in the media or seen by the families.

Three days after the crash, the Sheriff’s Department received a complaint that a young deputy was showing photos of the carnage at El Baja California Bar and Grill in Norwalk. Surveillance cameras recorded Joey Cruz showing his phone to the bartender. Cruz, a trainee who had been on patrol just two months, appeared to make a slashing motion with his arm.

Ralph Mendez was sitting in a booth nearby. He didn’t hear Cruz’s conversation, but the bartender told him the man was a deputy who had just shown him photos of Bryant’s remains.

Disturbed, Mendez filed a complaint on the Sheriff’s Department website, which made its way up to Villanueva. The sheriff promised not to discipline the deputies involved if they came clean and deleted the photos.

Villanueva is expected to testify during the trial, which is expected to last nine days, about conversations he had with Bryant and Chester on the day of the crash, his response to Mendez’s complaint and comments he made to news reporters.

[[Read “Vanessa Bryant is ‘haunted’ by the sharing of Kobe crash photos,” Los Angeles Times.]]


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L.A. stories

He “really likes his ADU so far,” said Andrea Villicana of the backyard unit she built for her disabled son, Adrian Perez.

(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

A granny flat with a mission: Andrea Villicana was worried about the future of her nonverbal, developmentally disabled son, Adrian Perez. Perez, 33, had always lived with the family, but she was worried something might happen and didn’t want to wait for a crisis to happen before coming up with a long-term plan. “Group homes are fine but not for Adrian because he can’t speak,” says Villicana, 58. “I was told that parents often rent an apartment for their child but … try renting an apartment on the Westside.” So the Culver City mother found a very L.A. solution: She built an accessory dwelling unit, or ADU, in her backyard for Perez and a caregiver. Los Angeles Times

Visitors take photos by a Nipsey Hussle mural at the strip mall property owned by the slain rapper.

(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

A Metro station dedicated to Nipsey Hussle? The new Hyde Park Station on the K Line in South Los Angeles has not been named after the visionary musician, songwriter and entrepreneur who was shot March 31, 2019, outside his Marathon Clothing store — but community members are pushing for it, a transit official said. Los Angeles Times

Accused of attempting to poison husband: Dr. Yue “Emily” Yu, 45, a dermatologist in Mission Viejo, was arrested by the Irvine Police Department on Aug. 4 on suspicion of trying to poison her husband. The husband rigged cameras in their Irvine kitchen, which he claims show her spiking his hot lemonade and tea with Drano. Yu denies the allegations and accuses her husband of trying to gain an advantage in the divorce and custody action he filed the day after his wife’s arrest. No charges against Yu had been filed by the Orange County district attorney’s office as of Tuesday, and she was released from jail. The Mercury News

A poster for the 1973 documentary “Wattstax.”

(GAB Archive / Redferns via Getty Images)

Wattstax was 50 years ago. Where were you? The iconic concert with Isaac Hayes, the Staple Singers and more took place at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Aug. 20, 1972. We want to talk to people who were there. Is that you? If so, fill out this form and a reporter will be in touch.

Immigration and the border

A view of Friendship Park from Playas de Tijuana in August 2020.

(Alexandra Mendoza / U-T en Español)

Construction halted on walls at Friendship Park: U.S. Customs and Border Protection is pausing wall construction at the park on the San Diego-Tijuana border to allow for negotiations with local communities on both sides. The construction plans do not include a gate on the northern wall to allow entry for friends and families to gather and spend time together without the border barrier between them, as they have for generations. Advocates expressed fears that Border Patrol had no intention of reopening the park, which has been closed for COVID-19. Washington Examiner

Heat-related death toll in Mexicali reaches 21: Most of the dead were migrants who had been awaiting passage to the U.S., a medical examiner said. Mexicali, 120 miles east of the Tijuana-San Diego region, has been engulfed by high heat since early April, with daily temperatures on occasion reaching 120 or higher. Border Report


UC campuses admit record number of California residents and fewer nonresidents: The rollback in out-of-state and international students is a big shift for the university, which began aggressively enrolling high-paying nonresidents after the 2008 recession, when the state slashed UC funding by one-third. California families have demanded more access, but “having students learn in classrooms that resemble the state, nation and world enhances their educational experience, ” said Youlonda Copeland-Morgan, UCLA vice provost for enrollment management. “It’s a tough balancing act.” Los Angeles Times

Politics and government

San Bernardino secession advisory heads to November ballot: The San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors is asking voters to let them explore seceding from California. Jeff Burum, a powerhouse developer from Upland who backs the recession, has a name for the new state: “Empire.” San Bernardino Sun, Los Angeles Times

Crime and courts

Karen Stitt was killed in 1982; a suspect was arrested last week.

(Santa Clara County district attorney’s office)

Hawaii man arrested in Palo Alto teen’s 1982 rape and murder: Fifteen-year-old Karen Stitt met her boyfriend at a 7-Eleven in Sunnyvale in Santa Clara County. They walked to a miniature golf course and Ponderosa Elementary School, then back by the convenience store, where he watched her walk to a bus stop for the trip home to Palo Alto. The boyfriend later said he felt bad leaving her alone but didn’t want to get in trouble with his parents. Stitt’s body was found the next morning with 59 stab wounds. Authorities said they used forensic genealogy to link DNA from the scene to Gary Ramirez, 75, who was arrested Aug. 2 at his home in Makawao on the island of Maui. He faces rape, murder and kidnapping charges. Los Angeles Times

Window shoppers pass a Walgreens storefront in San Francisco in 2006.

(Ben Margot / Associated Press)

Walgreens helped fuel San Francisco’s opioid crisis, judge says: More than 100 million prescription opioid pills were distributed by Walgreens in the city between 2006 and 2020, and thousands of orders deemed suspicious went un-investigated by the pharmacy giant, U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer ruled Wednesday in a lawsuit filed by San Francisco against major prescription drug sellers. Los Angeles Times

Health and the environment

Is monkeypox veering out of control? Monkeypox cases are rising exponentially in some gay and bisexual communities, dimming hopes that officials can quickly gain control of the virus that has the potential to establish a lasting foothold in the United States. Los Angeles County reported 683 cases as of Tuesday — a figure that’s doubled in the last 10 days. Los Angeles Times

Visitors head toward Sleeping Beauty Castle at Disneyland in Anaheim in 2017.

(Jae C. Hong / Associated Press)

Disneyland shop reopens after closure for rat infestation: Health inspectors shut the shop down July 29 after finding droppings in a storage room and debris and dead insects inside an empty lollipop container and candy display units on the front counter. The shop reopened Aug. 1. Orange County Register, O.C. Health Care Agency

California culture

Tesla captures top two spots in California car sales: As popular models like the Honda Civic and the Toyota Camry faced inventory shortages this year that might have depressed their sales numbers, interest in electric vehicles in California grew, far outpacing that of the rest of the country. San Francisco Chronicle

Roxana E. Zelaya has been living in her RV trailer at Dreams for Change in San Diego.

(Nelvin C. Cepeda / San Diego Union-Tribune)

“This isn’t an RV camp”: Safe parking for people who live in their cars or trailers reduce the risk of towing or ticketing, but many residents have to be off the lots for most of the day. Some have to take their vehicles with them. Operators have to weed out the freeloaders from those who are legitimately homeless. “We get a ton of calls around Comic-Con,” said Teresa Smith, chief executive of Dreams for Change, which operates a safe lot in Encanto, an urban neighborhood in San Diego. San Diego Union-Tribune

California almanac

Los Angeles: sunny, 93. San Diego: mostly sunny, 83. San Francisco: sunny and breezy, 72. San Jose: becoming sunny, 81. Fresno: sunny, 97. Sacramento: becoming sunny, 95.

And finally

Today’s California memory comes from Maggie Dolan:

As a child in the early ’50s, [I remember] the S.F. Chronicle ran articles about a movement to clothe naked animals. Diapers for them all were suggested. The movement actually raised some money. The Chronicle had great fun with the cause and, as I remember, ran sketches of proper diapers for different animals. At least, I think they were having fun.

If you have a memory or story about the Golden State, share it with us. (Please keep your story to 100 words.)

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