Whether he was sober, drunk, tired or alert, Rodney King broke a cardinal rule: never ever swim alone.
It doesn't matter if you're an adult or child, if you're a strong or weak swimmer, you should always have someone in the pool or nearby in case you get in trouble. And that person has to be able to swim well.
In the summer, we hear tragic stories of young children who stumble into a pool and drown because the babysitter fell asleep on the couch or mom went in to fold laundry for a few minutes. But children aren't the only drowning victims.
As a teenager, I spent most of my summers lifeguarding at various pools in the suburbs of New York City. One of the first rules I learned when I studied for my lifesaving test was that no one should ever swim unattended. You could be a hotshot lifeguard who has saved a hundred lives, it doesn't matter. Even an experienced swimmer can easily drown. People seem to forget that a pool can be a very dangerous place.
A person can hit their head on the side of the pool and knock themselves unconscious. They can suffer a severe leg cramp or become lightheaded in the heat and pass out or have a seizure and swallow water. If these events occur on land, they're no big deal. But in a pool—even in only three feet of water— they can be deadly. Also, a solo swimmer might not be aware of weather changes. He might obliviously keep swimming while forks of lightening strike nearby.
As a lifeguard, I rescued dozens of people. Most of them were children who had fallen into the pool and couldn't swim. But there was also the occasional adult who had over-estimated their stamina or their swimming ability or who had imbibed too much and had suddenly forgotten how to swim. They just needed some help to the side of the pool. And a good swimmer can help anyone get to the side of a pool because one's body is nearly weightless in water. No big deal.
Rodney King was a strong swimmer, friends and acquaintances say. According to accounts, King's fiancée, Cynthia Kelley, was inside while Rodney was sitting by the pool. She heard a splash and ran out. King was on the bottom of the pool at the deep end. Since Kelley was not good swimmer, she did not jump in the pool after him. If she had been a good swimmer, she could have easily pulled him to the surface.
The police arrived minutes later, but even seconds make a difference in a drowning. It was too late. There were no signs of life. King was taken to a hospital and pronounced dead.
A very unnecessary death.