Near Death, Jay Bias Spoke of Family, Prayed
By Paul Duggan
Was anyone hurt?
Andre Campbell, sprawled on the back seat, was only dazed, cut by flying windshield glass. Yet in front of Campbell, slouched and bleeding on the passenger seat beside Mathis, was the dying figure of their friend and co-worker, Jay Bias, shot twice in the back.
"Jay was leaning over on the driver," Campbell said yesterday. "He was telling us to tell his family how much he loved them. That's what he kept saying. He kept telling us to tell his family how much he loved them.
"Then he started saying the Lord's Prayer," Campbell said.
"And then Tydus, he just rushed us to the hospital," Campbell said, describing the death Tuesday of Prince George's County's 113th homicide victim of 1990, James Stanley "Jay" Bias, 20, a younger brother of the late University of Maryland basketball star Len Bias.
Jay Bias, a former high school basketball standout who once showed some of the talent his elder brother lost to a cocaine overdose in 1986, was pronounced dead at Leland Memorial Hospital at 2:52 p.m., less than two hours after the shooting outside Prince George's Plaza in Hyattsville.
Campbell said he and Mathis had accompanied Bias to the mall to pick up a gold-and-diamond ring that Bias had arranged a day earlier to buy for himself.
Investigators said yesterday that the shooting apparently resulted from a chance encounter in the mall between Bias and a man who accused Bias of flirting with his wife, a clerk for Kay Jewelers. The man chose to settle the argument minutes later with a handgun.
"I was just devastated, because his life was taken for no apparent reason," said Fulton Gross, a physical education instructor at Bias's alma mater, Northwestern High School, where a moment of silence was observed yesterday. "To take a life like that is just unbelievable."
"It's just so sad," said Aleeta Jennings, a Northwestern sophomore who knew Jay Bias. "Why would you kill somebody over a girl?"
The alleged gunman, Jerry Samuel Tyler, 24, of Temple Hills, surrendered to police Tuesday night. He was charged with first-degree murder and is being held at the Prince George's Correctional Center, awaiting a Circuit Court bond review hearing today.
Tyler allegedly fired the shots from the passenger seat of a green Mercedes-Benz. Police said last night they were still trying to determine the identity of the driver.
Police said yesterday they had found no indication that Bias and Tyler knew each other, or that drugs played any role in the slaying.
Campbell said he, Mathis and Bias, all mail room employees at the Sovran Bank operations center a few miles away, went to the mall on their lunch break in Mathis's four-wheel-drive Toyota.
Campbell and Mathis visited other stores while Bias was in the jewelry shop.
Police said a jewelry clerk, Tyler's wife, told Bias that his $800 ring could not be picked up for several hours.
Bias was chatting with the clerk, waiting for his friends, when Tyler arrived, police said.
The two men argued in the store, with Tyler accusing Bias of flirting with the woman, according to the police.
When Campbell and Mathis returned, Campbell said, the three of them left, with Tyler following.
"The guy kept saying to Jay, 'C'mon outside, c'mon outside,' " Campbell recalled. ". . . And Jay was saying, like, 'Look, I'm just purchasing a ring . . . . All this stuff ain't necessary, man.' "
Bias and his friends left the mall through one door and Tyler through another, according to Campbell.
Minutes later, as they waited at a stop sign just beyond the mall parking lot, Campbell said, a Mercedes-Benz stopped on the passenger side of Mathis's Toyota, toward the rear.
The assailant leaned over the driver and pointed a gun out of the driver's side window, he said. Police said five to eight shots were fired.
"There was just a ring of shots," Campbell said. "I didn't think he was ever going to stop shooting."
"It's like some horrible rerun," said William Powell of Landover, a next-door neighbor of Bias's mother, Lonise Bias.
Powell was referring to the death of Len Bias, who collapsed of a cocaine overdose in his College Park dormitory room June 19, 1986, after celebrating his selection by the Boston Celtics in the National Basketball Association draft.
He was pronounced dead in the same hospital where his brother died Tuesday.
"One time was bad," said Powell. "But the second time . . . ."
Jay Bias's father, James Bias, standing outside the family home last night with Jesse L. Jackson, who was recently elected the District's shadow senator, decried the mounting homicide toll in metropolitan Washington and called for stricter controls on handguns. "I'm tired of seeing the bodies in the newspaper every time I wake up," Bias said, his voice breaking. "That hurts me. Every time I see it, it hurts me."
Jerry Tyler is a brother of Von Oscar Tyler, 23, an accused cocaine dealer who, according to police, was the target of an attempted drug-related slaying in a Suitland pool hall on Feb. 20.
In that incident, three assailants opened fire with pistols and a shotgun in Players Billiard Parlor, killing two bystanders but missing Von Oscar Tyler, who was wearing a protective vest.
Von Oscar Tyler, who has not been implicated in the Bias shooting, is awaiting trial on a charge of possessing cocaine with intent to distribute.
Staff writers Stephen Buckley and Debbie M. Price contributed to this report.