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Questions remain about how Rodney King died

June 18, 2012 |  7:59 am

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An autopsy is planned to determine the cause of Rodney King's death.

Authorities said King appeared to drown early Sunday at his Rialto home, but they said questions remain about exactly what happened.

King’s fiancee called 911 about 5:25 a.m. and said she had found King at the bottom of his pool, Rialto police Sgt. Paul Stella said.

PHOTOS: Rodney King | 1965- 2012

A short time earlier, Cynthia Kelley had talked to King, who was outside, through a sliding-glass door, said Rialto police Capt. Randy DeAnda. Kelley then heard a splash and ran out, DeAnda said. She saw King at the bottom of the deep end of the pool, he said.

Kelley is “not a great swimmer,” DeAnda said, explaining why she did not jump in. Police arrived moments later and an officer jumped in the pool and pulled King’s body onto the deck.

“There were no signs of life,” DeAnda said.

PHOTOS: Notable deaths of 2012

The officers attempted CPR, which was continued when paramedics arrived, he said. King was taken to Arrowhead Regional Medical Center in Colton where he was pronounced dead at 6:11 a.m., he said.

Next-door neighbor Sandra Gardea, 31, said she heard commotion in King's backyard early Sunday. Gardea said she heard someone sobbing about 3 or 3:30 a.m.

“It just sounded like someone was really sad,” she said. “There was a lot of moaning and crying. Another person was trying to console that person.”

King became a symbol for police brutality and the troubled relations between the Los Angeles Police Department and minority residents. He was eventually 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.

"I sometimes feel like I'm caught in a vise. Some people feel like I'm some kind of hero," he told The Times earlier this year. "Others hate me. They say I deserved it. Other people, I can hear them mocking me for when I called for an end to the destruction, like I'm a fool for believing in peace."

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. King last year appeared on VH1’s "Celebrity Rehab," trying to tackle his fight with alcoholism.

King was drunk and unarmed when he was pulled over for speeding by Los Angeles Police Department officers and beaten in 1991.

The incident was captured on video by a civilian bystander and the recording became an instant international sensation. Four of the officers were tried for excessive force. Their acquittal on April 29, 1992, touched off one of the worst urban riots in U.S. history.

"It felt like I was an inch from death," he said, describing what it was like to be struck by batons and stung by Tasers.

A jury acquitted the four police officers in the beating of King, unleashing an onslaught of pent-up anger. There were 54 riot-related deaths and nearly $1 billion in property damage as the seams of the city were ripped apart.

In an interview with The Times this year, King confided that he was at peace with what had happened to him.

"I would change a few things, but not that much," he said. "Yes, I would go through that night, yes I would. I said once that I wouldn't, but that's not true. It changed things. It made the world a better place."


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Video: Rodney King beating

King found at bottom of pool by fiancee

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Streeter: The past still grips Rodney King

Rodney King had yet to 'realize his importance'

Rodney King spoke to fiancee before she found him

Rev. Al Sharpton calls King 'symbol of civil rights'

Morrison: Rodney King, 20 years after L.A.'s riots

-- Phil Willon in Rialto and Kate Mather in Los Angeles

Photo: An investigator from the Rialto Police Department enters the home of Rodney King. Credit: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times