Prince George's County State's Attorney Arthur M. Marshall Jr. said yesterday that a county grand jury will investigate possible illegal drug use by athletes at the University of Maryland and whether drug activity contributed to the death of basketball star Len Bias.
Marshall said the grand jury investigation will focus initially on Bias' death and could incorporate allegations of drug use by members of the women's basketball team.
The decision to launch an independent grand jury investigation means that, for the first time, the investigators will be able to compel key figures to appear for questioning. County police do not have that power without an arrest warrant.
Police investigators have said that Bias' death is being treated as a "suspicious death" and that a criminal investigation is being conducted.
"Arrangements can be made for them key figures to go before the grand jury, if they don't talk with police," Marshall said. "I'm sure the grand jury will be interested to see if there is any drug connection to Mr. Bias' death."
The Associated Press reported late last night that Marshall said Coach Lefty Driesell and several Maryland basketball players would be called before the grand jury on Tuesday.
Police have sought unsuccessfully to question Terry Long and David Gregg, former teammates and dorm mates of Bias. Police said they also want to interview Brian Tribble, a friend of Bias and former junior varsity basketball player at Maryland. Long, Gregg and Tribble were said to be with Bias when he collapsed, according to sources.
Police said the attorney for Tribble, William Cahill, told investigators his client would submit to questioning but would not say when. Cahill declined to comment yesterday.
University Chancellor John B. Slaughter said he welcomed Marshall's decision to launch a grand jury investigation.
"I just believe very strongly they ought to be questioned and tell the truth about what occurred," Slaughter said. "If it leads to the truth of what happened in the death of Leonard Bias, then I support it."
Marshall also said the investigation of Bias' death could result in "criminal charges being placed" against any person who supplied Bias with drugs if the state medical examiner's autopsy report concludes drugs contributed to his death.
Police sources said evidence of cocaine was found in a urine sample taken from Bias after he was pronounced dead of cardiac arrest at 8:50 a.m. Thursday at Leland Memorial Hospital in Riverdale. A clear, plastic bag containing what police sources said was cocaine was removed from Bias' leased Datsun 300ZX.
In another development yesterday, a member of the Bias family voiced dissatisfaction with the university's role in the investigation.
"We feel there may be something of a conspiracy to keep the university out of the spotlight," said Walter Scott, Bias' uncle and spokesman for the family. "We feel the university may not have Len's best interests at heart."
The 22-year-old Bias was an all-America last season and was the second college player chosen in the National Basketball Association college draft last Tuesday.
Athletic Director Dick Dull said Driesell told him the family was concerned "that Lenny was being made a scapegoat, and that the university wasn't doing anything."
Scott said, "We feel that there may have been something in the dorm oom, some playing around in the dorm room or some prank of some sort. We feel that if anything happened, it happened on campus."
Dull said the family had voiced its concerns to Driesell in a meeting Friday at Cole Field House.
As a result of those concerns, Driesell, Slaughter, campus police chief Eugene Sides and Prince George's County homicide chief Maj. James Ross called Bias' father, James, Saturday to reassure him that the university was cooperating with the criminal investigation.
"This is a situation that the Prince George's County police have described as a 'suspicious' death, and it is way over this department's head and the university's head to get involved other than through the police," Dull said. "I mean, we're not talking about a violation of training rules here. We're talking about a dead person."
Slaughter and Sides confirmed they had spoken with James Bias.
"They're very concerned, as I am, that this young man's name is being linked to all kinds of things," Slaughter said. "I have only one concern -- that's to get to the bottom of it."
Sides said he told James Bias, "We'd do all in our power to determine what occurred between the time . . . Len dropped him his father off at home on Wednesday evening , and the ambulance call to room 1103 in Washington Hall. He seemed reassured."
Driesell, who was at Cole Field House yesterday for the opening of his annual summer basketball camp, refused to answer questions about the Bias case.
"How can anybody comment on anything until the autopsy comes out?" Driesell said.
Scott said family members still are unclear on when Bias actually collapsed. An ambulance was called to the dormitory suite Bias shared with five other basketball players at 6:32 a.m. Thursday, and he arrived at the hospital at 6:50 a.m., exactly two hours before he was pronounced dead. "We feel that his collapse may have happened earlier than they said, possibly at 3:30," said Scott, who added that the family had no evidence to support that theory.
Three of the dorm mates -- Phil Nevin, Keith Gatlin and Jeff Baxter -- have said they were asleep and did not wake up until paramedics arrived. Gatlin said that when he woke up, Long, Gregg and Tribble were in Long's room, where paramedics were working on Bias.
Mel Cartwright, a former Maryland assistant who coached the junior varsity team four years ago during the only season it existed, identified Tribble as one of his former players. Driesell said he did not recall Tribble. "We've never had a junior varsity. We had tryouts one year . . . . Somebody said something that he might have been on the team but I don't think so . . . ."
Marshall's decision to probe possible drug use among Maryland athletes follows a university investigation this spring into allegations by a booster that members of the women's basketball team had used drugs. The investigation, conducted by Dull at Slaughter's request, concluded there may have been a problem with two players but "corrective measures" had been instituted.
Staff writer Sally Jenkins contributed to this report.