Newport Beach Mourns 9 Dead in Helicopter Crash

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By Daniel Langhorne | LB Indy

A retired basketball player who became internationally-renowned for his athletic prowess but still dedicated time to read to his daughter’s preschool class.

Mourners gather at Newport Ridge Community Park on Sunday night for a candlelight vigil. Photo by Charles Weinberg

A Harbor Day School eighth-grader who believed she would carry on her dad’s legacy in college basketball and the WNBA.

A Newport Harbor High alumnus who went on to become a championship-winning community college baseball coach and devoted family man.

An Ensign Intermediate School student who loved basketball and “always had a smile on her face.”

A mother who would regularly take her two daughters to watch their dad coach his college baseball team.

A Harbor View elementary alumna and her mother who shared a similar “dance like nobody’s watching” sense of humor.

A former championship-winning girl’s basketball coach for Harbor Day School and loving wife and mother.

These were eight Newport Beach community members among nine people killed in the Jan. 26 helicopter crash in Calabasas on a flight from John Wayne Airport to a basketball tournament in Newbury Park.

While the world mourns the loss of former Los Angeles Lakers player Kobe Bryant, Newport Beach was devastated after losing eight people who were residents, grew up, or taught in the community. It was the single deadliest event to hit Newport Beach since five Irvine teenagers died in a Jamboree Road car crash in 2013.

Newport Beach Mayor Will O’Neill consoled a grieving community Sunday night during a candlelight vigil at Newport Ridge Community Park.

“There were seven lights that were burning bright this morning in Newport Beach and those lights have been snuffed out,” O’Neill said. “We’re going to mourn together and we’re going to feel sorry for a long time tonight.”

Here’s what the Independent knows about the Newport Beach community members who died.

 

Kobe Bryant, 41, and Gianna Bryant, 13

In a city that’s home to CEOs, actors, and professional athletes, Bryant—a 17-time All-Star, five-time NBA champion—held a unique position in local culture. Whether they’re sports fans or not, residents were warmed seeing him playing basketball with his kids at the park or attending mass at Our Lady Queen of Angels Catholic Church.

Bryant bought his first Newport Coast home in October 2001, according to Variety. After retiring from a 20-year career in the NBA, he oversaw several brands related to the sports industry under Kobe, Inc. and co-founded a venture capital firm with business partner Jeff Stibel that reportedly managed assets worth more than $2 billion in September 2019.

On Sunday evening, at the entrance to Bryant’s gated neighborhood, about two dozen people were visiting a makeshift memorial of balloons, jerseys, flowers, and a basketball inscribed with “8 Mamba 4-Ever.”

“The entire community is suffering a great loss. He loved the Newport Coast Community and we loved Kobe and his family,” neighbor Julie Hermes said.

Newport Coast resident Smita Patel was among the community members who visited a memorial to Bryant on Sunday at Pelicans Drive and Pelican Hill Road. Patel said her son was in the same preschool class as one of Bryant’s daughters and fondly remembers him visiting their class to read to students.

“He’s part of the fabric of our community,” Patel said.

Harbor Day School’s administration wrote in a statement Monday that the school was mourning Gianna Bryant, who attended the private Corona del Mar campus since kindergarten.

“Gianna was a strong leader, had a work ethic that was unmatched, and had a level of maturity beyond her 13 years,” Harbor Day said a prepared statement. “Gianna has left an indelible mark on the school and the people that she’s touched.”

 

John Altobelli, 56; Keri Altobelli, 46; Alyssa Altobelli, 13

Orange Coast College Baseball Head Coach John Altobelli, his wife Keri, and their daughter Alyssa were among the Newport Beach residents mourned this week, especially at the team’s first practice of the school year on Monday.

Before convening practice, the men’s baseball team tied a #14 banner, in honor of Altobelli’s jersey number, to the outfield fence. The team emblazoned “Always a Pirate” in blue letters at bottom of the orange banner.

“John meant so much to not only Orange Coast College, but to baseball,” Coast Athletic Director Jason Kehler said in a statement. “He truly personified what it means to be a baseball coach. The passion that he put into the game, but more importantly his athletes, was second to none—he treated them like family.”

Newport-Mesa Unified administrator Kirk Bauermeister said he umpired John’s childhood baseball games. When he was the Costa Mesa High School baseball coach, Bauermeister’s team played against John while he attended Newport Harbor High School.

“You could see that he was going to be a coach one day,” Bauermeister said.

At least a dozen Costa Mesa High alumni crossed the street to play for John during Bauermeister’s coaching tenure.

“Whether it was the best kid on our team or a kid who didn’t have a shot but really just wanted to try out, he treated them all the same,” Bauermeister said. “Anybody that played for John has that special feeling for him because he made them all feel special.”

Todd Harrell was Alyssa’s basketball coach at Ensign for the last two years, the Los Angeles Times reports. He credited the eighth-grader with being a key player in the team’s success and described her as “a great girl and a great basketball player.”

Left behind are the Altobellis’ two other children: J.J., a former college baseball player and current Boston Red Sox scout, and daughter Alexis.

To support the children, the Red Sox have launched a GoFundMe that has racked up about $225,000 by Thursday to help with funeral costs, Alexis’ college tuition and more.

 

Payton Chester, 13; and Sarah Chester, 45

The Harbor View Elementary School community remembers alumna Payton Chester and her mother, Sarah Chester, as having a similar “dance like nobody’s watching” sense of humor.

Former Harbor View principal Todd Schmidt said he fondly remembers Payton carelessly dancing alone on stage in a snowman costume during her fourth-grade class’ holiday pageant routing.

“She was a bright light for so many people,” Schmidt said.  “I’ve been doing this for 23 years and I’ve rarely had a student who had that gift that Payton Chester had.”

Payton, 13, attended the Corona del Mar campus from preschool through fifth grade and was an eighth-grader at St. Margaret’s Episcopal School in San Juan Capistrano.

Sarah Chester, 45, was a sounding board for Schmidt as both a parent and former teacher.

“You knew you could count of Sarah for anything and she would do it well with a sense of style and humor that I always appreciated,” he said.

One of Payton’s goals at her fourth-grade career day was to become a teacher. Harbor View fourth grade teacher Kristin Botta said at the time she hoped Payton would return to campus as her student teacher.

Botta said she will never forget how Payton and her best friend decided to dress up as her for Halloween. They wore matching dresses, blonde wigs, sunglasses, and even made photocopies of her district name badge.

Sarah Chester volunteered in Botta’s classroom by planning class parties, decorating the classroom door, and keeping fellow parents informed on school happenings. When Botta was moved to a different classroom in the middle of the school year, Chester helped push furniture and used an X-ACTO knife to cut and place pink craft paper over “baby poop yellow” cabinets.

The Chesters bought Botta the pink curtains that hang in front of her classroom window.

“When the pink glow would come through the curtains, I would always think of them,” she said.

 

Christina Mauser, 38

Christina Mauser, of Huntington Beach, put her heart and soul into coaching and teaching physical education at Harbor Day from 2007 to 2018, school administrators said in a statement. Mauser helped lead Harbor Day’s eighth-grade girls’ team to their first-ever championship.

“The Harbor Day community is devastated and sends its love and comfort to her husband, another former teacher at our school, Matt Mauser, and their children,” school administrators wrote.

A candle-lighting and gathering will be held for Christina from 7-10 p.m. on Feb. 7 at Campus JAX, 3950 Campus Drive.

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