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Rodney King on cocaine, PCP before drowning, coroner finds

August 23, 2012 | 10:17 am

PHOTOS: Rodney King | 1965- 2012

Rodney King, a reluctant symbol of police brutality and the troubled relations between the Los Angeles Police Department and minorities, died after drowning in his backyard pool in Rialto in June with a cocktail of alcohol and drugs in his system, the San Bernardino County coroner's office has determined.

The findings released Thursday clarify the mystery of why the avid swimmer was found at the bottom of his swimming pool the morning of June 17.

"He was in a state of drug- and alcohol-induced delirium at the time of the terminal event and either fell or jumped into the swimming pool," according ot the San Bernardino County coroner's report.

PHOTOS: Rodney King | 1965- 2012

The autopsy and toxicology tests found cocaine, PCP, marijuana and alcohol in his system. Those drugs, combined with a heart condition, led to a cardiac arrhythmia, according to the report. His blood-alcohol level was 0.06.

King had long struggled with drugs and alcohol. He called himself a recovering addict but had not stopped drinking and possessed a doctor's clearance for medical marijuana. Last year he appeared on VH1's "Celebrity Rehab," trying to tackle his fight with alcoholism.

King's fiancee, Cynthia Kelley, called 911 at 5:25 a.m. after finding King at the bottom of the pool. Kelley told Rialto Police Department detectives that she was unable to rescue him because she was a poor swimmer.

AUDIO: Listen to the Rodney King 911 call

At the time, police said there were no "outward signs" of alcohol or drug use that may have caused King to fall into the pool. Investigators responding to the incident confiscated what appeared to be marijuana plants from King's home.

Police said King's body showed no signs of trauma, and no traces of blood were found on the concrete pool deck or in the water. He was dressed in swim trunks when police officers pulled him from the water.

In the investigation, King's next-door neighbors had conflicting reports about the hours before his death.

OBITUARY: Rodney King, key L.A. riots figure, dead at 47

One neighbor, Sandra Gardea, 31, said she heard King sobbing uncontrollably in his backyard, apparently after he had been up all night. She said she heard King's fiancee trying to coax him back into the house.

"It wasn't like an argument," Gardea said. "She was just saying, 'Get in the house. Get in the house.'"

Then there was silence, said Gardea, whose open bedroom window faces King's house. A few minutes later, Gardea said, she heard a splash.

King's other next-door neighbor, Dee Schnepf, 58, said she didn't hear any commotion coming from King's backyard that night. Schnepf said she arrived home early Sunday morning and was in her backyard around 3:30 a.m. feeding her cats. Schnepf, 58, said it was not uncommon for King to take a swim at night or early in the morning and that "he liked to swim in the dark."

King's 1991 beating at the hands of police led to deadly riots in Los Angeles in 1992. He was awarded a $3.8-million settlement, but the money and fame brought him little solace. He had repeated run-ins with the law and as of April said he was broke.

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-- Phil Willon

Photo: Rodney King at his home in Rialto in March. Credit: Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times
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