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Rodney King 'incapacitated' by drugs, alcohol before drowning

August 23, 2012 |  2:20 pm

Rodney Glen King

Rodney King died of accidental drowning in his backyard swimming pool. But San Bernardino County officials said he was smoking pot and drinking in the hours before his death.

The coroner's report listed King's death as an accident but added that he was in a “state of drug- and alcohol-induced delirium at the time of the terminal event and either fell or jumped into the swimming pool." 

Coroner's report on Rodney King deathThe effects of the drugs and alcohol, combined with a heart condition, probably led to a cardiac arrhythmia and King “thus incapacitated, was unable to save himself and drowned," the coroner’s report stated.

PHOTOS: Rodney King | 1965- 2012

King’s girlfriend, Cynthia Kelly, called 911 shortly before 5:30 a.m. on June 17 after finding King face down at the bottom of his pool.

She told police that on the morning of his death, King was outside pounding on a sliding glass door and woke her up.

“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."

AUDIO: Listen to the Rodney King 911 call

When Kelley went back into the house to retrieve her cellphone to call 911, she heard a splash, the report stated. Kelly told police she was a poor swimmer, so she tried to rouse King by jabbing him with a pitchfork and hoe, the report stated.

Inside King’s home, investigators found a number of empty beer bottles, as well as a partly empty bottle of gin and an empty champagne bottle.

Police recovered a “small amount of marijuana” in his kitchen and a marijuana cigarette in the backyard. Kelley told investigators that King has been smoking marijuana cigarettes with a friend the night before.

The coroner’s toxicology tests found that King had a blood-alcohol level of 0.06. Traces of cocaine, marijuana and phencyclidine (PCP) also were found in his system, the report stated.

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 Glen King looks at a picture of himself from May 1, 1992 in March. Credit: Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times