A woman lost her cousin in the Kobe Bryant helicopter crash. Weeks later, she saw LA County officials sharing graphic photos of the crash site at a gala, she testified.

  • A woman who witnessed LA fire officials sharing photos of the Kobe Bryant crash testified on Friday.
  • Luella Weireter also lost two family members in the January 2020 helicopter crash.
  • Weireter was one of two private citizens to file a complaint against the county over the shared photos.

A woman who lost two family members in the January 2020 helicopter crash that killed Kobe Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna testified in court on Friday that weeks after the tragedy, she witnessed LA County fire officials sharing gruesome photos of the crash site at a gala.

Luella Weireter delivered emotional testimony on the third day of the trial between Vanessa Bryant and Los Angeles County. Bryant has filed a lawsuit against the county and other defendants over allegations that LA sheriff’s deputies and Los Angeles County Fire Department captains took and shared photos of the helicopter crash site in late January 2020.

Weireter, an integral witness in Bryant’s case, is intrinsically tied to the tragedy. She lost her cousin and in-law in the crash; later witnessed LA county fire officials sharing photos from the scene; and testified on Friday that she previously witnessed an LA sheriff’s deputy snap a gruesome photo of a suicide victim in an unrelated matter when she worked as an EMT.

Weireter was one of two private citizens who filed complaints against LA County alleging that officials shared photos from the site. A judge earlier this month had ruled that Weireter could testify under certain conditions.

On January 26, 2020, a helicopter transporting Kobe Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter, and the baseball coach John Altobelli and his family crashed near Malibu, California, as they were heading to a girls basketball game. All nine people aboard, including the 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, Payton, died in the crash, is also suing county workers on the same claims and will have a consolidated nine-day trial alongside Bryant’s against the county.

Weireter on Friday described the grief she felt at the loss of her cousin, Carrie Altobelli, and Carrie’s husband, John Altobelli, both of whom died in the crash. She told the courtroom that Carrie Altobelli was her “idol.”

Weireter said she was still in mourning when she attended the the 70th Annual Golden Mike Awards gala less than a month later with her husband, who is a public information officer for the LA Fire Department. 

At one point during the awards ceremony, Weireter said she walked into a cocktail room where she saw former LA County Fire Department PIO Tony Imbrenda and his wife, as well as Fire Captain Sky Cornell and his girlfriend, and another firefighter with his partner all huddled around Imbrenda’s phone.

As the group dispersed, Weireter alleged that Imbrenda’s wife excitedly asked Weireter to look at the photos of Kobe that the group had just previously been observing. Weireter also testified that she heard Cornell say, “I can’t believe I just looked at Kobe’s burnt up body and I’m about to eat.”

Days after the incident, Weireter said she was still shocked and disgusted by what she had witnessed and drove to a Malibu fire station to file a complaint.

Vanessa Bryant’s suit is seeking punitive damages from the county defendants. She is suing the county over claims of negligence, emotional distress, and invasion of privacy, as well as allegations on the federal level that relate to her constitutional right to the images of her deceased loved ones and LA County agency practices that may have led to the taking and dissemination of photos.

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