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January 6, 2007
USC kicker found dead at bottom of cliff
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LOS ANGELES - Foul play probably was not a factor in the death of Southern California kicker Mario Danelo, whose body was found about 120 feet down a rocky cliff, police said Sunday.
"It was fairly apparent that this was either an accident or suicide," said Lt. Paul Vernon.
Danelo's brother said Sunday that "it was an unfortunate accident."
"He was a good kid," Joey Danelo said during a phone interview with The Associated Press. "There was not a person I know that didn't like him."
Investigators were examining evidence recovered after Danelo's body was found Saturday afternoon near Point Fermin lighthouse in the city's San Pedro section.
While police have not completely ruled out foul play, Vernon said "there didn't appear to be a crime involved." An autopsy could be performed as early as Monday, coroner's officials said.
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.
Investigators were looking into whether Danelo was out with friends Friday night. He was last seen around midnight, authorities said.
A makeshift memorial was placed near the top of the steep cliff where Danelo fell. A flag bearing the USC logo was spread out, surrounded by flowers and candles and a message reading "Rest in Peace Danelo" spraypainted 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 on 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.
"He was one heck of a kicker. He was a key ingredient in our success the past two years. The thoughts and prayers of the entire Trojan family go out to the Danelo family on this sad, sad day."
USC linebacker Dallas Sartz said Danelo would be remembered for his upbeat personality and dependable kicking.
"I just remember Mario was the guy who always had a smile on his face and would always cheer you up," said Sartz, a team captain.
For more coverage of the USC Trojans, check out USCFootball.com.