Brian Lee Tribble - A Silent Key To The Bias Mystery

Posted: June 29, 1986

COLLEGE PARK, Md. — His name is Brian Lee Tribble, and at one time, he played junior varsity basketball at the University of Maryland. About 6-feet-4, Tribble was stocky and slow. But he was relentless around the hoop.

And off the court, he had his own style. After dropping out of Maryland last season, Tribble liked to lounge at the pool or in the sandwich shop at Seven Springs Village, the high-priced apartment complex in which he resided near the Maryland campus. He drove a $26,000 Mercedes-Benz and, once anchored in his ninth-floor apartment, hosted parties for his friends on the Maryland basketball team.

But Brian Lee Tribble, 24, was the kind of guy who never really got what he wanted. Interviews with his former teammates and his attorney, as well as police and university records, show that Tribble, the man who spent the last crucial hours with Len Bias before his death, fell short of sharing the success he saw being achieved around him.

For five years, he drifted in and out of enrollment at Maryland, taking courses to fulfill his general-studies major, a curriculum common to Maryland basketball players. When injuries from a motor-scooter accident ended his short-lived basketball career last year, he dropped out of school.

According to his attorney, William Cahill of Baltimore, Tribble has since worked as a free-lance furniture repairman, occasionally getting jobs as a contractor for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

But when he was not picking up infrequent work, Tribble spent his time at his high-rise apartment, friends and neighbors said. It was a private place, a refuge from the often stifling environment of campus-dormitory living.

Len Bias, friends and neighbors said, often visited Tribble, occasionally seeking respite from the hectic season and the pressure of being a star athlete.

Bias and Tribble were friends. They often went dancing at Chapter III, a club in the southwest section of Washington. Their companionship, friends said, was built on how they complemented one another. Bias envied Tribble's sleek Mercedes. Tribble was in awe of Bias' considerable basketball talent. Bias used Tribble to escape the pressure and spotlight that came with his enormous success. Tribble hoped that the aura around Bias would rub off on him.

"Lenny was really relaxed around Tribble," said one of Bias' teammates, who asked not to be identified.

After Bias returned last week from a whirlwind trip to Boston and New York following his selection as the No. 2 pick in the NBA draft, he went to see Tribble at Seven Springs in the early-morning hours of June 19, according to Prince George's County law-enforcement sources.

Several hours later, in a dormitory suite on campus, it would be Brian Lee Tribble, Cahill said, who would call the police emergency number to get help for the stricken Bias. According to Maryland's chief medical examiner, Bias ingested an unusually pure dose of cocaine, which interrupted the normal electrical control of his heart and killed him.

Immediately after Bias' death, which shocked this campus of 40,000 students, police began looking for Tribble. But he disappeared. He moved out of Seven Springs and went to live temporarily in Baltimore, friends said. He sought the advice of a lawyer, who said that he told Tribble not to talk to police or reporters and to stay away from the Maryland campus.

Only unconfirmed newspaper and television reports remained.

Reports that, after they left Tribble's apartment, Bias and Tribble went to Bias' dormitory suite in Washington Hall, then disappeared, then were rumored to have been seen at the corner of Montana and New York Avenues - an area in Washington where drugs can be bought on the street. Reports that the cocaine they bought was high-grade, that it was too pure to buy on the street, that they paid $800 for a gram of the stuff - a price significantly lower than the sum high-grade cocaine commands.

But these are just stories. What really happened between the time Len Bias and his father touched down at National Airport at about 10 p.m. on a flight

from New York until 8:50 a.m., when Bias was pronounced dead of cardiac arrest, probably is locked up between Len Bias and Brian Lee Tribble.

Tribble's silence may be ended before a Prince George's County grand jury, which will hear preliminary evidence on Tuesday about the Bias case.

Tribble - and Maryland basketball players Terry Long and David Gregg, who were in the dorm room when paramedics attempted to revive Bias - may be subpoenaed to testify before the grand jury.

Under Maryland narcotics laws, anyone subpoenaed to testify before a grand jury about narcotics automatically receives immunity from prosecution if he testifies without waiving immunity. Long and Gregg, who lived in Washington Hall with Bias, may be granted immunity in exchange for their testimony, according to county law-enforcement sources. But Tribble may not be offered immunity, the sources said.

"I have told him only to respond to a subpoena," said Cahill, who declined to divulge what further action his client would take.

Arthur A. Marshall Jr., the Prince George's County state's attorney, has said that he would look into the possibility of bringing a manslaughter charge against the person who supplied the cocaine to Bias, but he has declined to say whether a decision has been made to seek an indictment against anyone.

*

In the courtyard outside Washington Hall, a colonial-style dormitory on the south end of the campus, pallets of fiberglass roofing sit on top of six aging basketball courts. The metal backboards are blemished with rust. Some of the hoops are missing. Others are bent.

The dorm is half-filled with summer-school students, mostly varsity athletes making up classes or taking courses they were forced to miss during the year. At the time of his death, Bias was 21 credits short of his degree after four years. He did not earn a credit last semester, when he received three failures and two withdrawals. He would have attended classes this summer.

His friends Long, Gregg, Tony Massenburg, Bryan Palmer - all members of the Maryland basketball team - are attending summer school.

Long is built like a football player. When medics arrived at the Washington Hall suite, it was Long who was administering cardiopulmonary resuscitation to Bias.

On a recent afternoon, Long, a 22-year-old junior, slowly emerged from the dorm room to attend a summer-school class. He was preceded by two men who he later said were members of the varsity football team.

"My lawyer has told me to talk to no one," Long said in a polite but firm voice.

His words were seconded by quiet stares from his entourage.

Whether Long or Gregg, a shy 19-year-old freshman, ever play Maryland basketball again depends on the outcome of the grand jury investigation and the university's posture on drug use among athletes. If they experimented with cocaine and the board of regents at the university cracks down on campus

drug abuse, their careers at the school may be in jeopardy.

"It's just not fair," said Lawrence Gregg, David's father. "It seems people want to punish him already. He's a good kid. He never had anything to do with drugs."

It is the exact nature and extent of drug abuse on the University of Maryland campus that has become the broader issue of the investigation into Bias' death.

Marshall, the county's chief prosecutor, said that the grand jury would delve into the question of whether there was widespread availability of drugs, particularly cocaine, at the university.

That line of questioning, county law-enforcement sources said, may bring the investigation back to Brian Lee Tribble - specifically to his off-campus connections.

One question detectives would like answered is how Tribble, a furniture repairman, could afford an apartment in Seven Springs Village and make the payments on his Mercedes.

Without Tribble, police have been unable to fill crucial gaps in their investigation. And without Bias and without the cooperation of Long and Gregg, they have been unable to piece together the mystery of Brian Tribble.

Tribble was rarely seen around members of the basketball team when they were near the gym or at Cole Field House, where Maryland's home games are played, according to varsity and junior varsity athletes.

"I have never in my life seen him at a home game, and I've been to just about all of them," said Birdie Lewis, mother of Derrick R. Lewis, a sophomore basketball player from Temple Hills, Md.

"The word was that he (Tribble) just did not get along with some of the coaches," said a junior varsity basketball player who asked not to be identified. "But that wasn't it at all. The basketball part of his life is over, and he really did not like coming around."

Tribble's only close friend on the basketball team, the JV player said, was Bias.

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