Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva appeared to take aim at celebrity news outlet TMZ in the wake of Kobe Bryant's fatal helicopter crash, hinting that the news outlet rushed to publish the story before next of kin had been notified.
Villanueva released a statement on Sunday afternoon in the aftermath of the crash in Calabasas that claimed the life of the NBA legend, his 13-year-old daughter, and seven other people. Names of those killed in the crash had not been fully released, though it was confirmed that one on board was Orange Coast baseball coach John Altobelli.
In the statement, Villanueva said that the flight manifest showed that there were a total of nine people on board, including the pilot and eight passengers, but he said he would not confirm the identities until families of those killed had been notified. He called out TMZ by name in the statement.
"It would be extremely disrespectful to understand that your loved one has perished and you learn about it from TMZ. That is just wholly inappropriate so we're not going to be going there," he said.
"We're going to wait until the coroner does their job and we're assisting the families of those who believe they've been impacted and it's a tough process."The celebrity news outlet was the first to publish the story about Bryant's death, close to a full hour before ESPN reporter Adrian Wojnarowski had confirmed the story and it was placed on the front page of the sports news outlet's website. The TMZ story was published at 11:24 a.m. local time in California, less than two hours after police first received 911 calls that the helicopter had crashed onto a remote hillside in Calabasas.
Other news outlets reported on Bryant's passing in the hour that followed, appearing to wait until it was clear that next of kin had been notified. There appeared to be other misinformation, including incorrect reports that fellow former Los Angeles Lakers player Rick Fox was among those killed in the crash.The sheriff's statement drew anger toward TMZ, with many taking to social media to speak out against the site and the possibility that Bryant's family may have learned about his death from the published reports.
"TMZ is disgusting and so insensitive for releasing the news about Kobe before anyone's next of kin was notified...so inappropriate just for the clout of having the first news story," one person wrote.