Major League Sports

Vanessa Bryant agrees to settle lawsuit over deadly helicopter crash

LOS ANGELES — Vanessa Bryant has agreed to settle a lawsuit against the pilot and owners of the helicopter that crashed last year, killing her husband Kobe Bryant, their daughter, Gianna, and seven others.

Bryant, her children and relatives of other victims filed a settlement agreement notice Tuesday with a federal judge in Los Angeles but terms of the confidential deal weren’t disclosed.

If approved by the court, the settlement — first announced by KABC-TV — would end a negligence and wrongful death lawsuit filed against the estate of the pilot and the owner and operator of the helicopter that crashed into a hillside on Jan. 26, 2020.

Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, and six other passengers were flying from Orange County to a youth basketball tournament at his Mamba Sports Academy in Ventura County. The helicopter encountered thick fog in the San Fernando Valley north of Los Angeles.

Pilot Ara Zobayan climbed sharply and had nearly broken through the clouds when the Sikorsky S-76 helicopter banked abruptly and plunged into the Calabasas hills below, killing all nine aboard instantly before flames engulfed the wreckage.

The others killed were Orange Coast College baseball coach John Altobelli, his wife, Keri, and their daughter Alyssa; Christina Mauser, who helped Bryant coach his daughter’s basketball team; and Sarah Chester and her daughter Payton. Alyssa and Payton were Gianna’s teammates.

The National Transportation Safety Board released a report in February that blamed pilot error for the crash. The NTSB said a series of poor decisions led Zobayan to fly blindly into a wall of clouds where he became so disoriented he thought he was climbing when the craft was plunging.

The agency also faulted Island Express Helicopters Inc. for inadequate review and oversight of safety matters.

The settlement agreement would end legal action against Zobayan’s estate, Island Express Helicopters Inc. and its owner, Island Express Holding Corp. The suit alleged the companies didn’t properly train or supervise Zobayan and that the pilot was careless and negligent to fly in fog and should have aborted the flight.

Island Express Helicopters has denied responsibility and said the crash was “an act of God” it couldn’t control. It countersued two Federal Aviation Administration air traffic controllers, saying the crash was caused by their “series of erroneous acts and/or omissions.”

The settlement agreement wouldn’t include the countersuit against the federal government.

21:23ET 22-06-21

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Major League Sports

Canadiens vs. Golden Knights Game 5 picks

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Stamkos puts to rest questions about his play as Lightning seize series lead

You can triangulate the exact moment a star player will begin getting asked about a production shortfall during the Stanley Cup Playoffs using a highly technical formula: It arrives when his personal multi-game drought overlaps with his team’s position getting less certain in a series and he’s made available to speak with reporters.

It matters not if he’s played well and hit six posts, or been completely nullified by the opposing team’s checkers, or if he’s skating on one good leg.

What the narrative demands under those circumstances is someone to embody the fickle nature of playoff existence, which explains in large part why Steven Stamkos found himself getting asked about the zeroes being produced by his line with Alex Killorn and Anthony Cirelli on Monday morning and how limited he might potentially be by a late-season injury.

“Ummm, (I’m) good enough to play, so …,” Stamkos responded.

It was his head coach, Jon Cooper, who sagely suggested that it would only be a matter of time before the points started to fall for his second line. This was roughly 10 hours before Stamkos converted a member’s bounce on his first shift as part of a three-point night during Tampa’s unexpected 8-0 win over the New York Islanders in Game 5 of their Stanley Cup semifinal series.

“Tonight was time. You’re not going to hold those guys down forever,” said Cooper. “For them to score in their first shift and just build off that, we knew it was coming. It was great to see and they were pretty fired up.”

Stamkos had been held without an even-strength point in the series through four games and hadn’t scored a goal in his last five. He was not the reason things were dead even with the Islanders entering a crucial night at Amalie Arena, and it would be foolish to confuse him with the guy who carried major offensive expectations for the Lightning for a decade.

That’s not a knock on Stamkos, who remains a serious one-time threat on a power play that’s mowing down opponents and has 17 points to show for his 16 games this post-season. It’s merely a recognition of how his role has evolved through time and injuries to the stage where Nikita Kucherov and Brayden Point are now the primary offensive drivers on the team.

Father Time has not yet robbed the 31-year-old of his special game-breaking ability even if he’s limited by it. We saw that in the Edmonton bubble when Stamkos scored a goal in last year’s Stanley Cup Final against the Dallas Stars during one of the five shifts he was able to grit through because of an abdominal core muscle injury that later required surgery.

On Monday it appeared again — first with the converted bounce at 45 seconds and later with the vintage power-play blast from the left circle that made it 4-0 and basically erased any distant hope of an Islanders comeback.

“He puts pucks into mail slots sometimes,” said Point.

No wonder this Lightning team has made such a habit of delivering while winning their last six playoff series.

They’ve got almost an embarrassment of riches with arguably the best goaltender in the league (Andrei Vasilveskiy), arguably the best defenceman in the league (Victor Hedman) and an attack that includes Kucherov, Point, Stamkos, Killorn and Ondrej Palat.

They’ve now followed their last 11 playoff losses with a victory, which Stamkos chalked up to a mindset established primarily by Vasilevskiy in goal.

Backed into a corner you can always count on this group responding with urgency and purpose. Even though the flood of goals in Game 5 will almost certainly be an outlier, it was the product of a ferocious start where the Lightning poured everything they could toward the Islanders net and got some good breaks.

“We earned everything we got today because we played the right way,” said Stamkos.

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They will need to do it again to book a second straight trip to the Stanley Cup Final. There’s no way this proud Islanders team will go away quietly, not Wednesday at Nassau Coliseum and not if they manage to stretch this series to a Game 7.

But what Monday’s performance did for the Lightning was ensure a little more calm for the next 48 hours. Kucherov leads all playoff scorers with 27 points, Point owns the second-longest goal streak in playoff history at eight games and Stamkos is clicking along at better than a point per game.

“Stammer’s played well,” said Cooper. “There’s the blanket (thought) ‘Hey, if Stamkos is not scoring then he’s not contributing’ and it’s just not the case. It’s a hard league to score in, especially against that team. …

“It’s hard to score in this league and he’s done it better than almost anybody in his generation.”

Questions asked and answered.

It’s the Lightning Way.

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