Autopsy: 'Bias Died Of Cocaine Intoxication'

Posted: June 25, 1986

The autopsy finding was sudden, simple, stark: Cocaine killed Len Bias.

There was no heart problem that had gone undetected. There was nothing like that, nothing capricious or inexplicable. There was only the finding that no one wanted, the finding that will guarantee a final, extended examination of the life and death of the former University of Maryland basketball star.

The finding:

"Leonard Bias died of cocaine intoxication," said Dr. John Smialek, Maryland's medical examiner, at a press conference yesterday in Baltimore.

It was that simple. Smialek said that Bias probably ingested the cocaine within minutes of his heart attack. He explained that the cocaine somehow interrupted the electrical activity in Bias's brain, causing his heart to beat irregularly.

"Within seconds after that," Smialek said, "the heart would have been unable to pump adequate oxygen to the brain. Following that, there would have been seizures . . . and cardiac arrest."

Smialek's findings were reported to Arthur A. Marshall Jr., the state's attorney for Prince George's County. And now, the focus will shift to a grand jury that will begin investigating next week. Marshall said he wants to find out "who brought them (drugs) in." He said it is possible those responsible will be charged with manslaughter.

According to Marshall, the investigation will center not only on Bias's death, but on the broader subject of drug use and University of Maryland athletes.

In so doing, the investigation will touch many lives:

* David Gregg and Terry Long, two Maryland basketball players who reportedly were with Bias when he suffered the fatal attack last Thursday morning. There are reports that Bias's dormitory room had been sanitized before an ambulance was called. There also were reports that it might have been a half-hour between the time Bias suffered his attack and the calling of the ambulance.

* Brian Tribble, a former junior varsity basketball player at Maryland who is described as a longtime friend of Bias. There are reports that Tribble also was with Bias when the seizures hit. There are other reports that Tribble and Bias were seen in Northeast Washington on Bias's last night, in an area known for drug activity.

* Lefty Driesell, the Maryland coach. He gathered his players at his home in the hours following Bias's death. There is a report that according to reserve center Phil Nevin, Driesell discussed with them "what should be publicized and what shouldn't be publicized."

"Mr. Driesell thinks it's his responsibility to his student-athletes to tell them not to be overly cooperative . . . I don't think that's his job," Marshall said Monday.

In addition, Driesell is under fire for his team's academic standing. Wendy Whittemore, the basketball team's academic counselor, resigned yesterday, The Washington Post reported. It also was revealed that five of the 12 basketball players - including Bias - flunked out of school last semester.

Whittemore described the team's grades this past year as "D-plus to C- minus." She said that players missed between 35 and 40 percent of classes during the season. On her resignation, Whittemore said: "It comes down to philosophical differences, and being unable to effect changes in the athletic department."

Meanwhile, Driesell is expected to testify before the grand jury investigating Bias's death. Marshall said yesterday he would try to avoid having the grand jury question the teammates who were with Bias when he died,

because such testimony automatically provides immunity from prosecution.

"I would prefer not having anybody having any complicity in the death of Len Bias having any sort of immunity," Marshall said.

Marshall also repeated the autopsy findings, that "nothing but cocaine killed him. The reason he died was cocaine."

The medical examiner's original schedule called for a report to be issued between seven and 10 days after Bias's death. Instead, the report was ready yesterday, five days after. The findings answered some questions and left others open.

For instance, Smialek said there was no evidence that Bias had used cocaine previously, but that he was not sure. One evidence of previous use would have been a change in Bias's mucous membranes.

"I did not find that in Mr. Bias," Smialek said.

Smialek said he could not determine how much cocaine Bias had used, but said he would not call it an overdose. He also said Bias was very healthy, with no signs of heart disease. That finding contradicted earlier reports that doctors had found massive damage in Bias's heart.

"Len Bias had a large heart, but that was not unexpected considering his superb athletic condition," Smialek said.

The medical examiner said there was no evidence that Bias was allergic to cocaine, but that he showed a sensitivity to the drug. He said the blood cocaine level was 6.5 milligrams per liter, which was about average for the 16 deaths from cocaine use in Maryland in the last three years.

"This particular concentration might not have killed another individual," Smialek said. "On the other hand, some might have been killed by lesser concentrations."

There was no evidence of alcohol or other drugs in Bias's system, Smialek said.

Smialek listed the manner of death as undetermined, indicating that the grand jury would ultimately make that decision. And last night - in the only statement made by any University of Maryland personnel - chancellor John B. Slaughter said the university would cooperate fully with the investigation.

"We want to get to the heart of what happens to crush out the life of this young man at his very prime," Slaughter said. He said that the university has attempted to educate its students "about the evils of drug abuse," but that it is "impossible to control the private behavior or conduct of every single student of a university campus."

At the same time, the commissioner for the state Board of Higher Education said he has asked the university's Board of Regents to appoint a commission to determine if there is a drug problem on the College Park campus.

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