SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. — Rodney King had been drinking and was on drugs when he plunged into a swimming pool and accidentally drowned in June, a coroner’s report released Thursday concluded.
The report confirmed a previous police conclusion that King died by accident, and the case will be closed, Rialto police Capt. Randy DeAnda said.
“It concludes our investigation,” he said. “Basically, our investigation revealed the same conclusion and now that we have the toxicology, it basically reinforces that.”
King, whose videotaped beating by Los Angeles police in 1991 led to deadly rioting, had long struggled with addiction.
A call from King’s fiancee brought police to his Rialto home at 5:30 a.m. on June 17. Officers pulled him from the bottom of the pool, and he was pronounced dead at a hospital.
Cynthia Kelley told authorities she was in bed when she was awakened and saw King at a patio door.
“She described him making grunting and growling sounds and having frothy secretions coming from his mouth,” the report states.
When King fell over a planter, Kelley went for her cellphone to call for help. She heard a splash and by the time she got to the pool, King was face down in the deep end.
Kelley could not swim and attempted to revive King by prodding him with a pitchfork and hoe before authorities arrived, the report states.
The San Bernardino County coroner’s report listed the cause of death as drowning “and the contributing cause was combined with ethanol (alcohol) and multiple drug toxicity,” DeAnda said.
Toxicology tests showed that King had a blood-alcohol level of .06 and amounts of PCP, cocaine and marijuana in his system, the captain said.
“Mr. King 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,” DeAnda said. “Obviously, the effects of the drugs and alcohol combined precipitated some kind of cardiac arrhythmia, thus incapacitated Mr. King, and he was unable to save himself.”
Arrhythmia is an irregular heartbeat.
A neighbor said after King’s death that she had heard sobbing from his house earlier that morning. It sounded like someone “really crying, like really deep emotions. … Like tired or sad, you know?” neighbor Sandra Gardea said.
The report details numerous injuries King sustained over his lifetime, including several birdshot pellets that remained in his body after being shot in 2007 by a shotgun.
King liked to skateboard and some of the injuries seen by medical examiners may have come from falls while playing, his brother Zhan Paul King told investigators.
King’s death occurred just months after the 20th anniversary of the Los Angeles riot brought him renewed attention. In the intervening years he had struggled with substance abuse and had a string of arrests.
But, at the time, he had just published a book about his life and was upbeat.
“America’s been good to me after I paid the price and stayed alive through it all,” he told The Associated Press. “This part of my life is the easy part now.”
It was an unusually positive view for a man who symbolized the problem of police brutality and had long since lost the $3.8 million he’d been awarded in a civil suit against the city over the beating.
Kelley was a juror on the civil trial.
In March 1991, the then-25-year-old King led authorities on a high-speed chase that ended on a darkened street.
He was stopped by four Los Angeles police officers who were videotaped striking him more than 50 times with batons, kicking him and shooting him with stun guns. He suffered 11 skull fractures, a broken eye socket and facial nerve damage.
A resident recorded the videotape the beating and it was played over and over for a year, inflaming racial tensions.
The officers’ trial, which was moved to the predominantly white suburb of Simi Valley, ended on April 29, 1992. A jury with no black members acquitted three of the officers on state charges and a mistrial was declared for a fourth.
Within hours Los Angeles was engulfed in violence and flames. Fifty-five people died, more than 2,000 were injured and more than $1 billion in damage was done.
At the height of the rioting, King made his famous plea for peace, saying, “Can we all get along?”