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USC's Danelo found dead

The kicker's body is discovered at the bottom of a cliff in San Pedro. LAPD detectives are continuing their investigation.

January 07, 2007|Gary Klein and Jerry Crowe | Times Staff Writers

The body of USC kicker Mario Danelo was found Saturday at the bottom of a cliff in San Pedro, according to Los Angeles Police Department officials.

Danelo, 21, was found west of the Point Fermin lighthouse on Saturday afternoon. LAPD detectives were still investigating late Saturday night.

"I have no indication per se that it was a criminal event," said Lt. David Pierson, commanding officer of the LAPD Harbor Division detectives. "But we exhaust all leads to ensure that we're making the right categorization of the case."

Asked if it was being investigated as a suicide, Pierson said, "I don't have anything to indicate that it was that."

Pierson said a person flying a remote-control airplane in Point Fermin Park noticed something at the bottom of the cliff and a friend traversed a trail down to the beach and discovered the body.

The fire department was contacted at 4:55 p.m., Pierson said.

"We're conducting an investigation at this time to exactly determine how it got there, whether it was an accident or what's going on," Pierson said.

Pierson said investigators had information that indicated Danelo was out with friends Friday night and that Danelo was last seen around midnight.

Asked if Danelo had been drinking, Pierson said, "We have no information to indicate whether he was drinking or not drinking. I just don't know at this time."

Atop the cliff are signs forbidding entrance and warnings about unstable, slippery surfaces and steep drops. A bouquet of flowers and candles were left at the scene by onlookers.

Danelo, the son of former NFL kicker Joe Danelo, would have been a senior next season. He was the Trojans' starting kicker the last two seasons after making the team as a walk-on in 2003.

Danelo made 15 of 16 field-goal attempts this season and converted 44 of 48 extra-point attempts. He kicked two 26-yard field goals in the Trojans' 32-18 Rose Bowl victory over Michigan and made two of four extra-point attempts.

USC Coach Pete Carroll was out of town and could not be reached for comment.

"We're stunned to hear about this tragedy," a USC spokesman said in a statement on behalf of Carroll. "This is a great loss. Mario was a wonderful young man of high character and he was one heck of a kicker. He was a key ingredient in our success these past few years.

"The thoughts and prayers of the entire Trojan Family go out to the Danelo family on this sad, sad day."

A woman reached by phone at the Danelo home did not wish to comment.

USC linebacker Dallas Sartz said Danelo would be remembered for his upbeat personality and dependable kicking.

"I just remember Mario was the guy who always had a smile on his face and would always cheer you up," said Sartz, a team captain. "He had a great personality.

"This is really tough for everyone to swallow right now. I just still can't believe it."

Danelo was an All-City player at San Pedro High. He redshirted at USC in 2003 and did not have any attempts in 2004.

Danelo, however, earned a scholarship in the fall of 2005 and had a record-setting season for the Trojans. Danelo made 11 of 12 field-goal attempts and converted 83 of 86 extra-point attempts, setting NCAA records for attempts and PATs.

Danelo is the second USC athlete to die in the last eight months. Ryan Francis, a point guard for the basketball team, was shot to death in May in Baton Rouge, La.

In August 2003, USC football recruit Drean Rucker drowned at Huntington Beach, a few weeks before he was to start his career with the Trojans.

Staff writer Rebecca Trounson contributed to this report.

gary.klein@latimes.com

jerome.crowe@latimes.com

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