VAN NUYS (CBSLA) — The estate of Ara Zobayan, who piloted the plane that killed Kobe Bryant, himself and seven others, has been denied the motion to move a case to a different location to ensure a fair trial based on Bryant’s prominent relationship to Los Angeles County.
Bryant’s widow, Vanessa Bryant, who lost her husband and one daughter in the January 26 crash in the Calabasas hills, brought the lawsuit in February in Los Angeles Superior Court.
The suit was filed on behalf of Vanessa and her three surviving daughters, with the estate of Zobayan, Island Express Helicopters and Island Express Holding Corp. listed as defendants.
The Zobayan estate wanted to change the venue where the case was heard from Los Angeles County to Orange County, but the judge ruled that the claim of an unfair trial could not be proven.
“The court finds… Zobayan has not made a showing that an impartial trial cannot be had in Los Angeles County,” Judge Virginia Keeny wrote.
Keeny said the Zobayan estate lawyers also did not submit any affidavits supporting the assertion that jurors in Los Angeles County would be biased in favor of Kobe Bryant due to his longstanding relationship with the community.
The judge also said they failed to show how the same alleged prejudice would not exist in Orange or other counties where the case could be tried.
“Although Kobe Bryant was clearly well known in Los Angeles and respected by many, that does not mean that all likely jurors will share that sentiment,” Keeny wrote.
The judge referred to the late NBA star as “an undeniably talented professional athlete who rallied the entire city of Los Angeles around him and around the hometown team” but ruled those facts won’t necessarily mean a case in L.A. County would be unfair to Zobayan.
The next scheduled court proceeding in this case is a December 2 case management conference.
“On information and belief, Island Express Helicopters’ Federal Aviation Administration operating certificate limited its pilots to flying only under visual flight rules,” according to the lawsuit filed by Vanessa Bryant. “The subject helicopter was not licensed or certified to be flown into instrument conditions. On information and belief, the pilot-in-command, Ara George Zobayan, was required to fly only in conditions that he could navigate visually.
“Ara George Zobayan attempted to maneuver the helicopter up and forward to clear the clouds, then entered a turn sending the helicopter into steep terrain at approximately 180 mph,” the suit continues. “Witnesses on the ground reported seeing the helicopter flying through a layer of clouds and fog before the helicopter crashed.”
Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna; John, Keri and Alyssa Altobelli; Sarah and Payton Chester; Christina Mauser; and Ara Zobayan were all killed in the crash. There were no survivors.
Relatives of the other helicopter crash victims filed separate lawsuits and also opposed moving the case out of Los Angeles County.
(© Copyright 2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. City News Service contributed to this report.)