Evidence Indicates Bias Had Smoked Pure Form of Drug

Associated Press

Maryland basketball star Len Bias died after apparently smoking a pure form of cocaine free-base, rather than from inhaling the drug in powder form, the assistant state medical examiner said Wednesday.

Redness in the lining of Bias’ windpipe, caused by the inhalation of heat, and unusual congestion in the throat indicate that Bias had free-based the drug, said Dr. Dennis F. Smyth, the assistant medical examiner.

“We’ve never seen people snorting get levels that high,” said Smyth, adding that the telltale sign was a red lining in the windpipe usually present in fire deaths.

The high concentration of the drug in the blood--6.5 milligrams per liter--also pointed toward the use of free-base, Smyth said.

It was believed earlier that Bias had inhaled the drug in powder form.


Smyth said it was not possible from the autopsy to determine the method of free-basing used.

Free-base is manufactured by freeing the cocaine base from the adulterated powder form, thereby reducing the melting point of the drug and allowing the smoking of almost pure cocaine vapor.

Bias suffered a seizure, collapsed and died June 19 in his dormitory room, just two days after the champion Boston Celtics made him their first-round choice in the National Basketball Assn. draft. The Maryland medical examiner, Dr. John Smialek, said cocaine interrupted the electrical activity to Bias’ brain, ending the flow of signals to the heart and causing it to stop beating.

A water pipe, which is commonly used to smoke free-base cocaine, was found in a dumpster behind Bias’ dormitory.

Yale H. Caplan, the state toxicologist who tested the water pipe, said the pipe showed no traces of cocaine but added that the lack of traces would be expected when free-base is smoked at its maximum efficiency.

Police found eight grams of powdered cocaine in Bias’ car. In the garbage bin outside his dormitory, police also recovered straws containing cocaine residue that apparently were used to inhale the drug, and a small glass vial containing 150 milligrams of hard cocaine chips or pellets, Caplan said.

Crack, an increasingly popular form of free-base cocaine, resembles small pellets. It is cheaper and easier to produce than earlier forms of free-base, which require larger quantities of powdered cocaine and a solvent, such as ether.

Arthur A. Marshall Jr., the Prince George’s County state’s attorney, said that the water pipe has been “connected to (Bias’ room) to the satisfaction of our office and certainly to the reasonable probability necessary in court.”

More than 70 prospective witnesses are being called to appear before a grand jury looking into Bias’ death and into drug use on the University of Maryland’s College Park campus. The grand jury session will open July 21.