Danelo's brother questions cause of death

Updated: February 7, 2007, 2:53 AM ET
Associated Press

LOS ANGELES -- Mario Danelo's brother isn't convinced the Southern California kicker fell to his death last month, despite the findings of law enforcement.

The Los Angeles County Coroner's Office said in an autopsy report released Monday that Danelo was legally drunk at the time of his death but couldn't reach other conclusions.

"Nobody knows what happened to him that night," Joey Danelo told The Associated Press in a telephone interview Tuesday. "I don't believe that he fell from the top of that cliff -- no way. That's just my personal opinion. I don't believe that's what happened.

"I don't believe that he fell from the top of that cliff -- no way. That's just my personal opinion. I don't believe that's what happened."
-- Mario Danelo's brother, Joey

"There are countless scenarios that could have taken place to get him where he got. There was a cliff, there were internal injuries. The path of least resistance is he could have fallen. There are other possibilities that could have put him at the bottom of that cliff," he said.

Mario Danelo's body was found around dusk Jan. 6 more than 100 feet down a rocky cliff in San Pedro, within walking distance of the family home. Without elaborating, police said the following day that foul play was ruled out -- that the death of the 21-year-old USC junior was either an accident or suicide.

USC won the Rose Bowl on New Year's Day. Several USC players said in the days after Danelo's death that there was no way he killed himself. His brother agreed and was also uncertain whether it was simply an accident.

"Things just don't make sense," Danelo's brother said. "It's confusing, there are no answers out there. We live one block away from those cliffs -- we were down at the tide pools at the bottom of that cliff our whole life. ... He was familiar with that area."

Joey Danelo, 29, said he believes law enforcement ruled out foul play too early. The coroner's report said Danelo had to scale a wall before falling off the cliff.

"We don't know that he fell. We know there wasn't an argument between my dad and him," Danelo said, referring to a published report that his brother had a disagreement with their father, Joe, a former NFL kicker. "I'm not saying there was foul play, but I believe that's a possibility."

Danelo said his brother was out with friends, including a couple college football players, the night before his body was found.

"They were all hanging out together," Danelo said. "All those kids were going back to school. Mario was to be back the following day. There was a reason for them to go out and have a good time. All those kids have been friends since elementary school and junior high.

"Everybody believes everything was just fine. We know that he was drinking, he wasn't driving his car. He wasn't breaking the law," he said.

The autopsy report said Mario Danelo left his house around 2 a.m. on Jan. 6 without his wallet, cell phone and car keys.

"He was not heard from again, and his whereabouts were not known until the body was discovered," the report said.

Said Joey Danelo: "The only thing we can think of is he just wanted to get some air."

The toxicological report accompanying Danelo's autopsy report found he had 0.23 blood-alcohol level, nearly three times the legal limit in California. No drugs were detected in his body.

The autopsy report said the cause of death was multiple traumatic injuries, but "because of the unanswered questions, we are stating the manner of death as undetermined," Deputy Medical Examiner Jeffrey Gutstadt of the coroner's office wrote in the report.

Danelo was an outstanding kicker in his two-year career at USC, going 26-for-28 on field goals. He was 127-of-134 on extra points.

Danelo set NCAA single-season records with 83 extra points and 86 attempts in the 2005 season. He kicked two field goals in the Trojans' 32-18 victory over Michigan in the Rose Bowl.

A walk-on at USC in 2003, Danelo received a scholarship two years later.

"No matter what comes out of this whole thing, we're never going to get to see him again," Danelo's brother said. "That's the hardest part. Whatever the police reports say, the coroner's reports say, that doesn't matter. It's not going to bring him back."


Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press

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