Vanessa Bryant is suing a second helicopter company stemming from the crash in Calabasas in January that killed Lakers legend Kobe Bryant and eight others, alleging the Santa Ana-based firm’s owner and founder suggested the route for the ill-fated flight and should have aborted it.
The amended Los Angeles Superior Court suit filed Friday additionally names OC Helicopters LLC, which allegedly provided the flight operations for the chopper owned by Island Express Helicopters Inc. and piloted by Ara George Zobayan.
A woman who answered the phone at OC Helicopters on Tuesday declined to comment.
According to the amended suit, OC Helicopters owner and founder Richard Webb “suggested the route for this subject fatal flight to Zobayan.”
OC Helicopters “improperly failed to tell the Island Express pilot Ara George Zobayan to abort or cancel the flight or turn around when its agent and employee, Richard Webb, was in communications with defendant Zobayan and monitoring the weather during the flight,” the suit states.
Webb personally checked and monitored weather conditions every hour and told Zobayan that based on the weather reports, the flight “was doable and was a good flight plan,” the suit alleges.
Webb continued to review weather updates and communicate with Zobayan and sent Zobayan a final weather-related text 20 minutes after the crash, according to the amended complaint.
Webb regularly discussed weather and routes with Island Express pilots prior to and during flights, according to the amended complaint.
Zobayan’s estate and Island Express Helicopters were originally named as defendants when the suit was filed Feb. 24.
Attorneys for the 38-year-old Vanessa Bryant filed additional court papers Friday seeking dismissal of Island Express’ cross-complaint against air-traffic controllers the company blames for the crash, calling the legal effort a “transparent and untenable attempt to forum-shop their way into federal court” and deprive their client of her preference that the case be tried in state court.
The Island Express cross-complaint contends the crash was “caused by a series of erroneous acts and/or omissions” by a pair of air-traffic controllers at Southern California TRACON, or terminal radar approach control. But Vanessa Bryant’s attorneys maintain the Island Express claim can only be heard in federal court and that “fortunately, and unsurprisingly, California law prevents such an attempt to abuse and manipulate federal law.”
In another legal move, Vanessa Bryant filed a lawsuit Thursday in Los Angeles Superior Court against Los Angeles County and Sheriff Alex Villanueva, alleging he failed to keep his promise to her that the crash scene was secured and that some of the deputies tasked with the assignment instead took photos of the dead.
“Faced with a scene of unimaginable loss, no fewer than eight sheriff’s deputies at the crash site pulled out their personal cell phones and snapped photos of the dead children, parents and coaches,” the suit states.
Vanessa Bryant seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.
The LASD issued a statement Tuesday on the lawsuit that read, “Shortly following this tragic crash, Sheriff Villanueva sponsored legislation which now makes it a crime for public safety personnel to take and share non-official pictures of this nature. Due to the pending litigation, we are unable to offer further comment.”
The helicopter, a 1991 Sikorsky S76B piloted by Zobayan, crashed amid heavy fog on Jan. 26 on a Calabasas hillside, killing Zobayan and his eight passengers, including the 41-year-old Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna.
At least four lawsuits have been filed against Island Express Helicopters in the months since the crash, including those by relatives of other passengers aboard the aircraft.