The 39-year-old model spoke in a court deposition via Zoom earlier this month amid her ongoing lawsuit against the Los Angeles County sheriff’s department, which she initially filed in September 2020. In the transcript of her statement, later obtained by Us Weekly, Vanessa claimed it took hours for her to be officially informed that the 41-year-old NBA legend and their 13-year-old child were killed.
According to Vanessa, an assistant told her on the morning of the crash that “there was an accident and that there were five survivors,” but “didn’t know” at the time whether Kobe and Gianna were safe. The California native attempted to call the former basketball player, and when she was unable to reach him, she contacted her mother, Sofia Laine, who came over to watch her two youngest children, Bianka, now 4, and Capri, now 2. Natalia, now 18, was at an ACT prep class.
Notifications began flooding Vanessa’s phone, with “RIP Kobe” alerts popping up as she went to pick up her eldest daughter. She told Natalia “not to worry,” but grew “frustrated” because she wasn’t getting any information about Kobe and Gianna.
Vanessa attempted to charter a helicopter to the crash site but was told that no one could take her due to the poor flying conditions. Rob Pelinka, the general manager of the Los Angeles Lakers, then drove her and Natalia to the sheriff’s station in Malibu.
“They weren’t prepared,” she claimed. “We got there and I kept asking if my husband and my daughter were OK. No one would answer me. They walked me into this little closet area — it looked like a closet. It had a sofa and some kids’ toys. I waited there and I said, ‘Are they OK?’ No one would answer me.”
Vanessa recalled being constantly moved into different rooms before finally being given information about the accident. When Sheriff Alex Villanueva arrived and broke the news to her about Kobe and Gianna, she requested that authorities “secure the area.”
She continued, “I said, ‘If you can’t bring my husband and baby back, please make sure no one takes photographs of them.’ … And he said, ‘I will.’ … I was afraid of fans or drones or helicopters getting images of my husband and my daughter and our friends.”
The sheriff, as Vanessa remembers, assured her that there was a “no-fly zone” put in place where the crash occurred. She left the station with Natalia before a press conference began.
Vanessa filed her lawsuit in hopes of getting “accountability” from the department. In her initial filing, she claimed that eight deputies took pictures with their cell phones upon arriving at the scene of the crash in January 2020. Along with Kobe and Gianna, there were seven other victims.
“I don’t think it’s right that I have to deal with this; that my kids have to deal with this when they get older and they become aware of what happened; that our friends have to deal with this,” Vanessa said in her deposition earlier this month. “I don’t think it’s fair that I’m here today having to fight for accountability. Because no one should ever have to endure this type of pain and fear of their family members. … I just don’t understand how someone can have no regard for life and compassion, and, instead, choose to take that opportunity to photograph lifeless and helpless individuals for their own sick amusement.”
Vanessa is suing for negligence, invasion of privacy and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
“Not only do I have to grieve the loss of my husband and my child, but for the rest of my life, I’m going to fear that these photographs of my husband and child will be leaked,” she told the court. “And I do not want my little girls or I to ever have to see [Kobe and Gianna] in that matter. … I have to deal with that every single day.”
Vanessa married the Oscar winner in 2001. Earlier this year, Us confirmed that she and the other families of the crash victims confidentially settled a wrongful death lawsuit with the company that owned and operated the helicopter that crashed. The suit was initially filed in February 2020.