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Whitney Houston death: Bathtub drowning among scenarios probed

February 12, 2012 | 12:49 pm
Alicia Keys gives a hug to Clive Davis

Investigators probing the death of Whitney Houston are trying to determine whether she drowned while in a bathtub at the Beverly Hilton on Saturday shortly before she was set to attend a pre-Grammy Awards gala, according to a source who has been briefed about the case.

The source, who spoke to the Los Angeles Times on the condition of anonymity because the case was ongoing, stressed investigators still have many unanswered questions, particularly about what Houston was doing in the hours before her death. Investigators are also interviewing family members and friends to determine whether Houston had any underlying medical conditions, a practice common in death investigations.

The Los Angeles County coroner's office is expected to perform an autopsy Sunday, but it's likely that a final cause of death will be deferred until toxicology test results come in. The source said drowning is one of several scenarios that investigators are examining as they gather evidence.

PHOTOS: Stars react

Beverly Hills police said there was no indication of foul play in Houston's death but also said it was premature to say that she had died of natural causes.

Houston had drug and alcohol problems for years, and last May her spokeswoman said she was going back into rehab.

The Times reported that days before her death Houston had been acting strangely, skipping around a ballroom and reportedly doing handstands near the hotel pool. According to The Times' Gerrick D. Kennedy, Houston greeted people with a warm smile but appeared disheveled in mismatched clothes and hair that was dripping wet.

PHOTOS: Whitney Houston | 1963-2012

Police said that so far they do not have evidence that drugs played a role in Houston's death.

After news of her passing, fans flocked to the hotel, some leaving flowers and tributes.

On Sunday morning, a bleary-eyed Ray J was briefly inside the lobby of the Beverly Hilton surrounded by three companions.

The musical artist, who reportedly had been dating Houston on and off, had his hood on, and was being consoled by others.

"Whitney dead," he repeated multiple times, as one friend grabbed him by the shoulders. "Whitney dead. We all gotta live with that."

A little later, Ray J left the hotel in the passenger seat of a red Ferrari.

Fans have begun assembling a makeshift memorial of flowers, candles and notes for Whitney Houston outside the Beverly Hilton.

"Bittersweet memories that is all we will take us," read one note. "We will always LOVE you."

One woman drove by, turning onto Santa Monica Boulevard from Wilshire Boulevard, asking a reporter on the street corner to add a bouquet to the mix. Another woman snapped a photo with her iPhone on the way to the bus stop.

"Oh there's my bus, I'm always late," she said, running to the stop. "Just hope I'm not late to heaven."

Worshipers at the First A.M.E. Church of Los Angeles held a special moment of silence in honor of Houston at their 10 a.m. service. Their pastor John J. Hunter described Houston as “one of the most dynamic voices of our time,” according to an announcement on the church website. “We are all deeply saddened by her passing and our hearts go out to her family,” he said.

An outdoor candlelight memorial and public gathering is scheduled to begin at 5 p.m. Monday in Leimert Park and will continue for at least two hours, according to community organizer Najee Ali. Fans will be able to express their grief and their admiration of Houston’s talents while Houston’s recordings play throughout the evening, he added.

FULL COVERAGE: Whitney Houston dead at 48

Paramedics performed CPR for about 20 minutes before the pop star was declared dead. The Beverly Hills Fire Department said it was called to the hotel about 3:30 p.m. and Houston was pronounced dead at 3:55 p.m.

Beverly Hills police on Sunday said officials would not be making any formal announcements about the case until at least Monday.

“There may be something at the beginning of the week,” Beverly Hills police Sgt. Brian Weir said Sunday morning about the possibility of a news conference or statement about the probe. "The investigation is pending.”

Houston's death cast a shadow over Sunday's Grammy Awards and brought tributes to the singer from around the world.

Grammys Executive Producer Ken Ehrlich and his team were scrambling Saturday night to find a poignant and proper way to mark her passing, and their plan was to have Jennifer Hudson perform a "respectful musical tribute" on the CBS broadcast on Sunday night.

"It's too fresh in everyone's memory to do more at this time, but we would be remiss if we didn't recognize Whitney's remarkable contribution to music fans in general, and in particular her close ties with the Grammy telecast and her Grammy wins and nominations over the years," said Ehrlich, a key figure in the Grammys since the early 1980s.

Houston had been  planning to attend music industry titan Clive Davis’ annual pre-Grammys party Saturday night at the Beverly Hilton.

Late Saturday, Davis told those assembled at the party that he had a "heavy heart" and was "personally devastated" by Houston's death, but "simply put, Whitney would have wanted the music to go on, and her family has asked for us to carry on."

It's unclear how long the investigation of Houston's death will take.

In other cases of high-profile figures dying unexpectedly, the investigations lasted for months and included detailed toxicology tests.

It took nearly three months for the coroner to officially rule on the death of Michael Jackson in 2009. In that case, authorities extensively reviewed the prescription drugs he was taking, interviewed his doctors and examined his medical history. The coroner ultimately determined he died of "acute propofol intoxication."

The coroner's office took about a month to rule that rapper Heavy D's unexpected death last year was caused by a blood clot.


Body moved to morgue

Reported acting erratically

Daughter rushed to hospital

Distraught Ray J mourns singer

Autopsy planned in next 24 hours

Cause of death likely to take weeks

Medics performed CPR for 20 minutes

Obituary: Troubled pop titan is dead at 48

TIMELINE: Whitney Houston highs and lows

VIDEO: Six legendary Houston performances

Hotel guest describes scene at Beverly Hilton

Whitney Houston had large entourage with her

VIDEO: Watch Houston's earliest TV appearances

Appreciation: A voice for the ages tarnished by addictions

-- Andrew Blankstein and Robert Faturechi in Beverly Hills

Photo: Singer Alicia Keys gives music industry mogul Clive Davis a hug outside the Beverly Hilton Hotel on Saturday. Credit: Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press