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Coroner: Rodney King in drug, alcohol 'delirium' at time of death

August 23, 2012 |  6:49 pm

Rodney King at his home in March

Rodney King drowned in his backyard swimming pool while in a “state of drug and alcohol-induced delirium,” officials concluded Thursday.

The San Bernardino County coroner’s office said King died as a result of an accidental drowning after he fell into his pool. Toxicology tests found alcohol, marijuana, PCP and cocaine in his system when he died.

Coroner's report on Rodney King death King’s fiancee, Cynthia Kelley, told police that he was drinking and smoking marijuana the night before his death.

PHOTOS: Rodney King | 1965- 2012

But one of King’s cousins, Ontresicia Averette, said that coroner’s officials told her Wednesday that some of the drug traces found were in such minute amounts that they may have been remnants from prior drug use.

“The levels of substances in his body were not enough to cause a death or drowning, and they had no way of determining whether those substance were put into his body that night or earlier in time," Averette said. "Maybe his body built up some sort of toxicity and he went into paralysis."

Averette said the autopsy also found that King had an enlarged heart and may have suffered a heart attack before winding up in the pool.

AUDIO: Listen to the Rodney King 911 call

According to the coroner’s report, Kelley told investigators that King was in the backyard of their Rialto home on the morning of June 17 and woke her up by banging on the sliding glass door.

“She described him making grunting and growling sounds and having frothy secretions coming from his mouth," according to the coroner’s investigative report. “The subject at that time was wearing his underwear down around his knees and then apparently fell backwards onto the planter … just east of the sliding glass door."

Kelley told investigators that when she ran to get her cellphone to call 911, she heard a splash. When she went outside, King was at the bottom of the pool.

Kelley told police she was not a good swimmer, so she tried to rouse King by poking him with a pitchfork and a hoe. She then called 911.

“Why didn’t she open the door after he was banging on it? No one knows," Averette said. “We only know what she has told us."

At the time his body was found, 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.

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."

After a traffic stop in 1991, King was beaten by Los Angeles police, and their acquittal in a subsequent trial led to deadly riots in Los Angeles in 1992. King 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