Facebook Payton and Sarah Chester
Chris Chester, who lost his wife Sarah and her 13 year old daughter Payton in the Helicopter crash in January 2020 that killed Kobe Bryant and six otherstestified Thursday that he is “afraid all the time every day” that photos of the accident scene will be leaked to the public.
Chris, along with Vanessa Bryant, is suing Los Angeles County for emotional distress and mental anguish after learning that photos from the accident scene, which included the bodies of the victims, were shared publicly on at least 28 devices owned by the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department and by more than a dozen lifeguards.
The father of three, along with Payton, he and Sarah are parents of twins, now 18, spoke publicly about the accident for the first time in emotional testimony. Chris, 48, said Payton “was a pretty accomplished basketball player” on her team with the Bryants’ daughter, Gianna. He explained that on the weekend of the accident, he and Sarah decided that she would go with Payton to his basketball games, while Chris would go to the twins’ lacrosse tournament. That morning, he briefly said goodbye to Payton and Sarah.
“Payton and I were very close. I gave him my rah-rah speech,” he says, then kissed Sarah and told them, “I’ll see you guys tonight.”
Chris said that ended up being the last time they spoke. They usually texted throughout the day, but she began to worry when her last message went unanswered. He called Kobe’s assistant, who said she lost contact with them and left her son’s lacrosse tournament to go to the Lost Hills sheriff’s station. As they were driving, news of the accident broke.
“A lot was going through my head, but I thought I was going to go to a hospital,” he explained, thinking that Payton and Sarah would be injured, but still alive. But the station was alarmingly quiet, she said, and “it had started to get an eerie feeling.” They took him to an area with the other families, including Vanessa, where they were eventually told there were no survivors.
“It was heavy,” he said. “My life will never be the same.”
Jae C Hong/AP/Shutterstock Vanessa Bryant
After the accident, Chris said that he had spoken to the coroner about identifying the remains, to which she replied, “It’s not something you or anyone else wants to see,” which she took to mean the scene was gruesome. Chris said that he was also sure that all photos taken by the coroner and the National Transportation Safety Board, which investigate aviation accidents, were protected by procedures.
So when she first learned that members of the sheriff’s department had taken and publicly shared photos of the accident scene, she couldn’t believe it at first. “It didn’t seem plausible,” he said. His feelings soon turned to anger. While Chris felt “empty sadness” after losing his wife and daughter, he said that when he found out first responders were sharing photos, he felt anger. “Clearly it was something that brought everything back.”
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Chris testified that he has suffered great anxiety at the thought of those photos being leaked to the public. “I didn’t even think they would have photos,” he said. “It never crossed my mind in my wildest imagination that sheriffs with cell phones would take photos and then share them.”
This case has been “especially distressing” because of the many inconsistencies and the level of uncertainty regarding the photos that were ever published, whether they still exist, or even how many there really are, he said. “It’s scary, the level of unknowns. I’m scared all the time every day,” she said, at the thought of them going out.
Chris, who said he has battled depression since the accident and would sometimes start drinking, decided to join Vanessa’s lawsuit because he wanted to get to the bottom of what happened.
“I wanted justice and responsibility.”
Chris said that when he buried Sarah and Payton, “I told Sarah to take care of Payton and I have the kids and I’ll see you again.”
“I’m thankful every day that I gave Sarah a kiss that morning and said ‘I love you.’ She continued, “The pain of losing a child… you’re not supposed to outlive your children.”