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At Kobe Bryant crash site, authorities struggle with public demands for a memorial

Fans gather in Calabasas near the site of the helicopter crash where Kobe Bryant and his daughter, Gianna, were among the dead.
Fans gather in Calabasas near the site of the helicopter crash where Kobe Bryant and his daughter, Gianna, were among the dead.
(Christina House / Los Angeles Times)

Crowds of people want to pay respects to Kobe Bryant and eight others who died in Sunday’s helicopter crash, and that outpouring poses daunting challenges for local authorities in and near Calabasas, where federal investigators continued to pick through the wreckage on Friday.

Officials said the site’s isolation combined with hazards posed by a nearby private reservoir, steep terrain and crash-contaminated soil make it difficult to accommodate people who want to visit and pay tribute.

There was a sense of urgency, however, in determining a location suitable for creation of a makeshift memorial where people can sort out their emotions with collective hugs, tears, prayers, teddy bears, candles and cards.

The crush of grieving pilgrims to the crash site, just a quarter-mile behind the Las Virgenes Municipal Water District headquarters and near its restricted reservoir in the northwest Santa Monica Mountains, has prompted the agency to hire additional security guards.

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“It is entirely appropriate for people to want to get to the site and pay their respects,” Michael McNutt, a spokesman for the water agency, said. “But we can’t have people coming through our property while the federal investigation is still going on in very rugged terrain.”

As 101 Freeway traffic streaked past on Friday, prospective pilgrims continued to turn off on the Las Virgenes Road exit, only to be turned away by half a dozen Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department deputies.

It may be several weeks before the overlapping property of the crash site, managed by the water district and the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority, is reopened to the public.

“The National Transportation and Safety Board’s investigation is expected to continue at least through the weekend,” Dash Stolarz, spokeswoman for the conservation authority, said. “Then California Department of Toxic Substances remediation crews will need time to remove contaminated soil and restore the area to the shape it was in before the crash.”

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Even after all that work is completed, she added, people need to know the crash site is more than a mile from the road, with no water or restroom facilities.

The site “is only accessible via a mile-long stretch of no-nonsense trail,” Stolarz said. “There is no flat spot or promontory from which people can view the site even from a distance.”

Representatives of the conservation authority, the water district and the city of Calabasas are expected to meet early next week to identify a memorial site that is safe, easily accessible and not fraught with liability issues.

That won’t be easy. Potential sites under review, officials said, include a dog park and a middle school parking lot near the New Millennium Loop trailhead just off the Las Virgenes Road exit.

“We understand that people need a place to memorialize everyone who lost their lives,” Michael Russo, spokesman for the city of Calabasas, said. “And we’re going to come up with a plan for that.”

In the meantime, he said, people have been leaving flowers and cards on a lawn by the basketball courts at nearby Juan Bautista de Anza Park.


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