Police investigating death of USC kicker Danelo

Updated: January 8, 2007, 4:15 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

LOS ANGELES -- Police say foul play was probably not a factor in the death of Southern California kicker Mario Danelo, whose body was found about 120 feet down a rocky cliff, leaving the possibilities of accident or suicide.

Mario Danelo
Nelson Chenault-US PRESSWIREUSC kicker Mario Danelo was discovered at the base of a cliff in Los Angeles Saturday.

As friends and teammates resumed classes Monday after a holiday break, investigators continued to examine evidence recovered after Danelo's body was found over the weekend near Point Fermin lighthouse in the city's San Pedro section. An autopsy was scheduled.

Police Lt. Paul Vernon said Sunday there "didn't appear to be a crime involved," and "it was fairly apparent that this was either an accident or suicide."

Danelo's brother said it was "an unfortunate accident."

"He was a good kid," Joey Danelo said during a phone interview with The Associated Press Sunday. "There was not a person I know that didn't like him."

It could take weeks to obtain toxicology results that would detect the presence of alcohol or drugs in his system.

Someone flying a remote-control airplane noticed something at the bottom of the cliff Saturday and a friend hiked down to the beach and discovered the body, police officials said.

Danelo was last seen around midnight Friday and investigators were looking into whether he was out with friends.

"You keep asking yourself the same question," USC assistant coach Sam Anno said, according to the Los Angeles Times. "Why?"

"He was not the type of guy to let anything get him down," Will Collins, the Trojans' special teams snapper and a close friend of Danelo, said, according to the Times. "I never met a happier kid."

A makeshift memorial was placed on the cliffs above where Danelo's body was found. A flag bearing the USC logo was spread out, surrounded by flowers and candles and a message reading "Rest in Peace Danelo" spray-painted on the ground.

Nearby, a sign warned: "Danger Do Not Enter Unstable and Slippery Surfaces Steep Drops."

Fire Department spokesman Brian Humphrey said investigators did not find a surf board, scuba-diving tanks or anything else to indicate Danelo might have been down there for any of the recreational activities common to the area.

Humphrey said over the years a handful of people had fallen from the cliff.

"It's entirely possible that he fell," Humphrey said.

Danelo, the 21-year-old son of former NFL kicker Joe Danelo, made 15 of 16 field goals this season and led the Trojans in scoring with 89 points. The junior made two field goals in the Rose Bowl last Monday to help USC beat Michigan 32-18.

He only missed two field goals in his career, going 26-for-28, and was 127-of-134 on extra points. In 2005, he set NCAA single-season records with 83 extra points and 86 attempts.

Speaking on behalf of Trojans coach Pete Carroll, USC spokesman Tim Tessalone said: "We were stunned to hear about this tragedy. This is a great loss. Mario was a wonderful young man of high character."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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