COSTA MESA, Calif. — IT WAS SUNDAY morning in Balboa Island, a harborside community off Newport Beach, and Tony Altobelli was getting his steps in. Around 11 a.m., his phone buzzed with a text message from his brother Jim. TMZ was reporting that Kobe Bryant had died in a helicopter accident. Tony tried to pull up the story, but the website crashed. He called Samantha Doucette, a women’s basketball coach at Orange Coast College who previously worked at Bryant’s Mamba Sports Academy.
“I heard,” she said, “but where’s your brother?”
Tony was confused. John Altobelli, the longtime baseball coach at Orange Coast, had struck up a friendship with Bryant because their daughters were teammates on the same club basketball team. Sometimes, John even accompanied Bryant on his helicopter. Tony knew this, but he had no idea John was traveling with him that morning.
Tony stopped his workout and focused on his smartphone screen. He sent John a text — Are you and your family OK? I’m hearing things. — but didn’t get a response. He quickly became nervous. He put two assistant baseball coaches in a group chat and asked if they knew anything. Two minutes later, one called. It was a man named Tim…