Christopher Chester, who lost his wife and daughter in the helicopter crash that also killed an NBA legend Kobe Bryant testified on Thursday (19).
During the hearing, the man said he lived in fear that photos taken of the bodies of his loved ones might one day resurface.
“I’m scared all the time, every day,” he told the court.
Chester is a co-author of a federal civil lawsuit with Bryant’s widow, Vanessa Bryant. Both claim that Los Angeles County invaded their privacy and failed to fully contain the release of the images, causing emotional distress to family members.
Chester’s wife Sarah Chester, their 13-year-old daughter Payton and seven others, including Kobe and Gianna Bryant, were flying to a women’s basketball game at The Mamba Sports Academy in Thousand Oaks on Jan. 2020, when the helicopter they were in plunges into a hillside in Calabasas, leaving no survivors.
Vanessa Bryant is expected to testify this Friday morning (19).
The trial so far has featured testimonies from several police officers, including a deputy who showed footage of the crime scene while at a bar, another who said he shared photos while playing video games, a third who sent dozens of photographs to someone he didn’t know. and a firefighter who showed the images to other employees during an awards cocktail party.
Chester’s turn at the booth followed several days of testimonials from these employees – some of whom apologized, detailed the graphic nature of the photos, explained why they were taken and shared, as well as why orders were given to delete them.
A police officer previously testified that he sent dozens of photos of the bodies the day of the accident with someone he did not know but believed to be a fire supervisor.
More than two years after the accident, the LA County Fire Department still doesn’t know if this person existed, if he got any photos or how many he received, LA County Deputy Fire Chief William McCloud testified Thursday.
“The inconsistencies, the level of uncertainty, it’s very clear to me that we have no idea the extent of the release of the photos,” McCloud said of the other testimonies he’s heard so far. “There was no clear explanation for what happened.”
Chester told the court it was “very concerning” that a “mysterious person out there” was releasing the photos into the air.
“Let’s all pray that this person doesn’t exist, but this uncertainty – Vanessa and I will have to live with her forever,” he added.
“I told them I would see them that night”
On Thursday, Chester described the morning his wife and daughter left for the helicopter ride. “I gave Sarah a kiss and told them I would see them that night,” he recalled.
That was the last time they spoke. “I’m grateful every day that I kissed him and said ‘I love you,’” Chester confessed.
Chris and Sarah Chester met in college and were married shortly after, having twins and Payton.
Chester said he normally received regular text updates from his wife, but that morning, he didn’t hear from her about a safe landing and his messages went unanswered.
He was at his twins’ lacrosse game in Orange County when he learned there had been a helicopter crash, Chester told the court. He said he called Kobe Bryant’s assistant, who informed him that they had “lost communication” with the aircraft.
Worried, Chester narrates that he left for Los Angeles County. On the way, news surfaced that Kobe Bryant was in the crashed helicopter.
“A lot of things were going through my head, but I was hoping to go to a hospital.”
Later, Chester was instructed to go to the Lost Hills Sheriff’s station. He arrived at a chaotic scene, Chester told the court, with smoke rising from nearby hills and a police department filling up with family members. Vanessa Bryant later arrived at the same post, looking for answers.
After learning that there were no survivors, Chester rushed back home to Orange County, concerned for his children who saw an article online about the crash during the game.
All that day and night, Chester said he tracked his wife and daughter’s phones using the “Find My iPhone” feature. Somehow the phones survived the accident, and he could see they were on the mountain.
Paul Cryil Westhead, Chester’s close friend and business partner, also provided an emotional statement Thursday, describing what it was like to see his typically “smart” friend devastated after learning of the death of his wife and daughter.
He described hugging his “broken” friend and crying together.
“I’ve never seen him like this,” Westhead told the court, speaking through tears. “The eyes were empty. Just that first look was brutal.”
Chester also cried on one occasion on Thursday: as he described the promise he made to his wife at the funeral. “’Take care of Payton. I have the boys. See you again someday’”.
Defense tries to minimize crash photo issue
Chester testified that he assured the coroner’s office that the photos taken by the coroner were secured and placed in a safe.
Weeks later, when news broke of officers sharing footage from the crash scene that contained human remains, Chester said he felt “disbelief, at first.”
“I couldn’t envision a scenario where this could happen,” he added. “It didn’t seem fair that this could happen.”
In cross-examination, the county defense sought to separate the photo-sharing issue from the helicopter crash, suggesting that much of Chester’s pain stems from the crash itself.
If the accident hadn’t happened, “we wouldn’t be here,” said defense attorney Jason Tokoro.
“Of course, and that would be great,” Chester said.
When the defense asked whether Chester’s main source of distress was caused by the accident rather than the photos, he said the accident had brought “an empty and sad feeling”, but his reaction to the release of the photos was “a little angry”.
He stated that he felt sadness combined with sadness, but that the additional emotional distress didn’t have to happen.
The defense also raised Chester’s initial outrage over media reports that one of the officers shared photos of the crash scene at a bar to impress a woman.
“That turned out not to be true, correct?” asked Tokoro. Chester agreed.
The lawyer was referring to a sheriff who earlier this week testified that he showed photos of the accident scene to a bartender he considered a friend.
Tokoro also pointed out that Chester has never seen any photos online and has not hired anyone to investigate their existence.
The defense also sought to mitigate Chester’s level of emotional distress over the photos, pointing out that he did not seek therapy and never went to a doctor to seek treatment.
“It doesn’t mean I don’t have my dark moments when I’m alone in the car or in the shower,” Chester replied.
Source: CNN Brasil