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Neighbor heard crying coming from Rodney King's yard

Rodney King's next-door neighbor in Rialto said she heard a man sobbing uncontrollably early Sunday. An autopsy was performed Monday.

June 18, 2012|By Phil Willon, Los Angeles Times
  • An investigator from the Rialto Police Department enters the home of Rodney King.
An investigator from the Rialto Police Department enters the home of Rodney… (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles…)

The investigation into Rodney King's sudden and unexpected death continued to produce more questions than answers Monday, as detectives tried to solve the mystery of why the avid swimmer was found at the bottom of his swimming pool the day before.

Fleeting clues surfaced from a next-door neighbor, who said she heard the 47-year-old King in his backyard sobbing uncontrollably, apparently after he had been up all night. Then she heard a splash.

Detectives with the Rialto Police Department were still investigating that report and other possibilities a day after King's fiancée, Cynthia Kelley, called 911 at 5:25 a.m. after finding King at the bottom of the pool. Kelley told detectives that she was unable to rescue him because she was a poor swimmer.

"Even though we're investigating this as an accidental drowning, we're looking into every lead," said Officer David Shephard, a police spokesman.

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 Shephard 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.

On Sunday, Rialto police Capt. Randy De Anda said suicide also was being investigated "as a possibility," but he discounted it as a routine avenue of inquiry and said there was no evidence that was the cause.

"The information that we are receiving from the fiancée, suicide is probably most likely not a factor in this drowning," he told reporters.

In the investigation, King's next-door neighbors had conflicting reports about what may have happened in the hours before his death.

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 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 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 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."

phil.willon@latimes.com

Times staff writer Matt Stevens contributed to this report.

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