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Rodney King was feeling fulfilled before death, co-author says

June 19, 2012 |  9:07 am

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Those who knew and worked with Rodney King expressed shock at his sudden death Sunday, saying he was a popular figure in the Rialto neighborhood.

Authorities are trying to determine the cause of King's death. He was found in his swimming pool Sunday morning.

Police confiscated marijuana plants as well as a wood-handled pitchfork and hoe into evidence from the home of King as officials tried to determine how he died. Officials said there were no “outward signs” of alcohol or drug use that may have caused King to fall into the pool Sunday morning.

PHOTOS: Rodney King | 1965- 2012

“I don’t think I met anyone who was so twisted up and so wanted to get straightened out,’’ added Lawrence J. Spagnola, who co-authored King’s autobiography, "The Riot Within: My Journey From Rebellion to Redemption."

“It’s tragic,’’ he added.  “I just think Rodney was poised for some happiness and fulfillment in his life that had not been there before.’’

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.”

VIDEOS: Rodney King

She was saddened by his death and, like many 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.”

Investigators are looking into reports by a next-door neighbor who said she heard the 47-year-old King in his backyard sobbing uncontrollably shortly before a splash.

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King’s fiancée, Cynthia Kelley, called 911 at 5:25 a.m. after finding King at the bottom of the pool. She told detectives that she was unable to rescue him herself because she is a poor swimmer.

“Even though we’re investigating this as an accidental drowning, we’re looking into every lead," Rialto Police Department spokesman Officer David Shephard said.

An autopsy on King was scheduled for Monday morning, although his 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. 

The toxicology tests and autopsy may determine if King suffered from an undiagnosed medical condition that caused him to lose consciousness or if he had been drinking or was under the influence of drugs.

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.

One of King’s neighbors, Sandra Gardea, 31, said she heard a man crying in King's backyard from about 3 a.m. to 5 a.m. King and his fiancée were the only ones at the house at the time, according to police. Gardea also heard King's fiancée trying to coax him back into the house.

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

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

Rialto police said officers arrived at the house about four minutes after the 911 call, and immediately dove into the pool and pulled King’s lifeless body out of the water.

Schnepf 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.

“I didn’t hear a thing, and I would have heard something,’’ said Schnepf.

“He and my ex-husband were real good friends," Schnepf said. They’d trade tools back and forth. It’s unbelievable that he’s gone. I feel like he could just walk over at any minute.’’

King became a symbol to many of police brutality and the troubled relations between the Los Angeles Police Department and minority residents after his 1991 beating at the hands of police. The acquittal of officers accused in his beating led to deadly riots in Los Angeles in 1992. King 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 he said he was broke.

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.

On Monday morning, King’s Jackson Street neighborhood was quiet, with a scattering of television news trucks and a single patrol car camping outside the home. The crime-scene tape stretched across King’s driveway was gone, as was his fiancée.

The porch light was still on.


King struggled with demons after beating

Police confiscate marijuana from King's home

Rodney King: Fiancee screaming, sobbing during 911 call

-- Phil Willon in Rialto

Photo: Rodney King speaks with fans before presenting his autobiography in April. Credit: Joe Klamar / AFP/Getty Images