John Altobelli, former teammate of head baseball coach David Pierce, dies in helicopter crash that killed Kobe Bryant, among seven others

Alex Briseño and Marcus Krum

John Altobelli, Texas baseball coach David Pierce’s college roommate, was killed in Sunday’s helicopter crash in Calabasas, California. The crash killed eight others, including former NBA superstar Kobe Bryant. 

Pierce and Altobelli, who was the baseball coach at Orange Coast College, were longtime friends dating back to their playing days at the University of Houston, according to a statement Pierce tweeted out Monday morning. Altobelli was 56. 

Altobelli’s wife, Keri, and daughter, Alyssa, were also killed in the crash. Alyssa played basketball with Kobe’s daughter, Gianna, who also died in the crash. Alyssa and Gianna were both 13 years old. Kobe was 41. 

The helicopter was bound for Kobe’s Mamba Sports Academy in Thousand Oaks for a Sunday game. 

“Yesterday we lost a dear friend, his wife, and their daughter,” Pierce said in the statement. “Alto was special. We were roommates in college and have had the best relationship two old guys on opposite sides of the country could have. We’ve seen each other’s families grow and lives change for 35 years. He was so proud of his children — JJ, Lexi, and Alyssa. They were his world.”

David Pierce on Twitter

Pierce and Altobelli played together at the University of Houston from 1984–1985. 

Altobelli then began his coaching career as an assistant at Houston in 1987. After serving as an assistant coach at UC Irvine from 1988 to 1992, Altobelli accepted the position as head coach at Orange Coast College, where he would spend the next 28 years. He was the longest-tenured baseball coach in school history.

Altobelli was recently named the American Baseball Coaches Association's National Coach of the Year for the Pacific Association Division after leading Orange Coast College to the California state championship. 

“I saw Alto earlier this month when he accepted his National Coach of the Year award,” Pierce said. “His impact in the baseball community was incredible. He changed the lives of countless ballplayers. He, Keri, and Alyssa will be missed by so many and at the end of the day, that’s what it’s about: Making teammates, players, coaches, coworkers, friends, and family better. Alto did just that. Susan and I loved and will continue to love Alto and his family. I know many can say the same. My heart breaks for all those affected by yesterday’s tragedy. May they rest in peace.”

The Altobellis are survived by a daughter, Alexis, and a son, J.J.