Day seven of the ongoing trial between Vanessa Bryant and Los Angeles County saw one of the other victim’s family members testify about the negative impact the leaked photos had on his family.
As you might know, Vanessa sued the County alongside other defendants in September 2020 for taking and leaking photos of the helicopter crash site where she lost her husband Kobe Bryant, her daughter Gianna Bryant, and seven others. Chris Chester, who lost two family members in the crash, is a co-petitioner in the case.
Chris Chester Takes The Stand For Day 7
On Thursday, Chris Chester, who lost both his wife Sarah Chester and his 13-year-old daughter Payton in the tragic helicopter crash, took the stand. Payton — who was teammates with Gianna and coached by Kobe — and her mother were asked by the late Lakers player to join him on his helicopter to save time as the teenager had two back-to-back games on that fateful day.
Per reports, Chris recalled while on the stand how he kissed his wife and daughter goodbye and told them “I love you,” a memory that has brought him great comfort amid his grief. Later that day, when he heard about the crash, he was hoping to report to the hospital to see his wife and daughter but was unfortunately informed that there were no survivors.
Upon reporting to the police station, he was joined by Vanessa and together they informed Sheriff Alex Villanueva to “lock it down” and make sure no photos from the crash made it to the media. At the time, Chris taught it was a closed case while he returned home to mourn his loved ones.
He recalled returning home and stopping at a convenience store after receiving the devastating news. “Everyone in the convenience store was talking about the crash and wearing Kobe jerseys. The energy was building up. And I thought, ‘here come the crazies.'” Chris said.
The grieving husband and father opened up about how the next few weeks were for him and his two sons, revealing that they “tried not to let grief walk in front of us.” His outlook on life was seemingly progressing until February 28 when things suddenly went downhill.
The Grieved Husband & Father heard About The Leaked Photos On His Birthday
On February 28, 2020, Chris’s first birthday without his wife and daughter, he read a Los Angeles Times article about how some first responders on the scene took and shared photos of human remains at the crash site and then deleted it after a citizen complained about an officer sharing them at a bar.
“I didn’t think they would even have photos,” Chris said. “It never crossed my mind in my wildest imagination that someone.”
Deputy Joey Cruz was responsible for showing the images to his bartender friend Victor Gutierrez at the Baja California Bar and Grill in Norwalk. Describing how the news of the leaked photos affected him, Chris said between sniffles, “There was anger. And there was a little bit of rage to it.”
His positive outlook on life soon got dampened and his upward trajectory dwindled. As a result of the photo scandal, Chris revealed that he began relying on alcohol and missing work because it “brought the whole thing back again.” Chris’ business partner Paul Westhead who also took the stand, described it as “the equivalent of someone taking a big punch, falling to the mat, getting up and then getting hit on the back of the head by a 2-by-4, and not getting back up.”
Chris, whose life was thrown into the spotlight because of the crash, told the jurors that he risked his privacy further by suing the County because he wanted “justice.” He bashed the “humiliation” caused by the images while praising the first responders for doing their jobs on that heart-wrenching day.
Chris also called out the inconsistencies of the officials’ testimonies, saying, “The inconsistencies, the level of uncertainty, we still have no idea the extent of the photos’ dissemination. It seems there is a consistent theory that there are less and less photos every time someone gets up on the stand, first there were 100 and now there are 10.”
The widower confessed that he continues to live in fear of the pictures seeing the light of day. “In my heart, I believe a lot of damage has already been done. But, I’m fearful all the time every day.”