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Rodney King death: Neighbor says he was sobbing uncontrollably

June 19, 2012 |  6:40 am

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A next-door neighbor of Rodney King said she heard the 47-year-old in his backyard sobbing uncontrollably early Sunday, apparently after he had been up all night. Then she heard a splash.

King, an avid swimmer, was found dead at the bottom of his swimming pool Sunday morning, and detectives with the Rialto Police Department were still investigating the circumstances Monday. 

King's fiancée, Cynthia Kelley, called 911 at 5:25 a.m. after finding him, telling detectives she was unable to get him out of the pool because she was a poor swimmer.

VIDEOS: Rodney King

One neighbor, Sandra Gardea, 31, said she heard music playing and a man crying in King's backyard from about 3 a.m. to 5 a.m. She also heard King's fiancée 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.

PHOTOS: Rodney King | 1965- 2012

King's other neighbor, Dee 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."

She was saddened by his death and, like many of the neighbors, described King as a private, quiet person.

"He was so sweet. He'd mow our lawns once a week and never asked for any money," Schnepf said. "It's unbelievable that he's gone. I feel like he could just walk over at any minute."

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Meanwhile, police stressed Monday that they are investigating the incident as an accidental drowning but are looking into every lead.

An autopsy was conducted Monday morning, although King's cause of death will not be made public until the completion of toxicology tests in six to eight weeks, said San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department spokeswoman Jodi Miller.

Findings from the autopsy are critical to the investigation because they may reveal whether King suffered an undiagnosed medical condition that caused him to lose consciousness or if he had been drinking or was under the influence of drugs when he died.

There were no outward signs of alcohol or drug use that may have caused King to fall into the pool, police said. However, investigators Sunday confiscated what appeared to be marijuana plants from King's home. Investigators also took a wood-handled pitchfork and hoe into evidence, which they called standard evidence collection.

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.


Rodney King, dead at 47 

King struggled with demons after beating

Rodney King: Fiancee screaming, sobbing during 911 call

— Phil Willon in Rialto and Matt Stevens in Los Angeles

Photo: Rodney King in March. Credit: Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times