Fireman Arrested In Stabbing Death

By Dan Zak
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 15, 2006

A St. Mary's County volunteer firefighter allegedly beat his mother's longtime boyfriend with a golf club before fatally stabbing him with a pocket knife Sunday evening inside the Lexington Park station of the Bay District Volunteer Fire Department.

Nicholas Thomas Potts III, 22, of California has been charged with first-degree murder, first-degree assault and second-degree assault. After a Monday morning court hearing, he was ordered held without bail at the Detention Center in Leonardtown.

Officers responding to a report of an injured person arrived at the firehouse at 7:40 p.m. Sunday, according to the St. Mary's Bureau of Criminal Investigations, a joint agency of the Sheriff's Office and the Maryland State Police. Potts was arrested as he left the building with blood visible on his clothing, said Lt. Daniel Alioto, a spokesman for the bureau.

Inside, officers found the body of James Augustus "Gus" Choporis Jr., 46, of Great Mills. According to charging documents filed in court, the body was in a second-floor storage room at the station and had been wrapped in blood-soaked blankets, towels and plastic.

"We believe the dispute was over money owed," Alioto said. "I think it came up in casual conversation and gradually got out of control."

Potts, a volunteer firefighter for the past nine years, according to court documents, and Choporis, owner and manager of International Beverage liquor store in Lexington Park, had driven together to the firehouse so Potts could drop off gear, Alioto said. They were alone in the upper level of the station-- which has living quarters for firefighters -- when Choporis became upset with Potts, according to Potts's statement in the charging documents.

Potts said he retrieved a golf club and struck Choporis in the head and, during the ensuing struggle, stabbed him with his knife "more than once," according to the statement included in the court file.

After Choporis stopped moving, Potts wrapped him in plastic and other items, dragged him to the storage area and attempted to clean up the area. A short time later, Potts told a firehouse chief that he had killed someone inside the firehouse, the court documents stated.

Investigators obtained search warrants and entered the second-floor area at the firehouse. Once inside, officers observed blood pools and spatters on the floor and walls in the lounge area, according to the charging documents. The investigators followed a blood trail that led to the storage room, where they found Choporis dead, with numerous wounds to his neck area and a cut to his skull.

Fire department officials and members of Potts's family declined to comment. Potts is listed as a senior firefighter on the Bay District Volunteer Fire Department's Web site.

Paul Choporis, the victim's brother, described him as an animal lover and a "big-hearted guy" who grew up in St. Mary's County as the youngest of six children. Paul Choporis said his brother had a 15-year-old daughter in Colorado and five nieces and nephews, and also maintained a house in Bowie.

Gus Choporis had been in a relationship with Potts's mother, Susan, off and on for about 12 years, his brother said.

"He was from a very close, loving family. Everybody is just devastated," Paul Choporis said, adding that friends and acquaintances have been leaving flowers in front of the International Beverage store, which was closed in the days after the killing.

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