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On the afternoon of Oct. 19 last year, a world-class athlete, Augustinius (Stijn) Jaspers, 23, was found dead in the upper bunk bed of his dormitory-style room at Clemson University. The death was baffling, for Jaspers' many friends knew him as a high-spirited competitor in excellent condition. He had run for his native Holland in the 5,000 meters at the Los Angeles Olympics and was considered by his coach at Clemson to be one of the best young distance runners in the world.
University police combed the room after Jaspers' death searching for clues. The single most significant—and puzzling—discovery was a small plastic bottle that contained three orange-and-white capsules. Tests indicated that the capsules contained phenylbutazone, an anti-inflammatory drug used by many top-level athletes. Widely known simply as bute, the drug is legally obtainable only with a prescription. But the bottle in Jaspers' room had no label, and he had no physician's prescription for it.
Dr. James Pruitt of Seneca, S.C. said in his autopsy report that death had been the result of congenital heart disease. Jaspers' father said that the family had no history of heart ailments and that his son had no record of them either. Pruitt's report indicated, however, that Jaspers' heart was 31% larger than acceptable for a man of his size, and that a coronary artery on his left side was undersized.
As for the bute, Pruitt wrote, "The finding of traces of phenylbutazone in the patient's blood is not believed to be a factor in his death."
Case closed? Not quite. This tragic opening scene gave authorities a lead that has since led to the discovery of a drug-traffic system that may have illegally distributed as many as 100,000 units of bute and various kinds of steroids, synthetic hormonal derivatives that athletes use in hope of building bulk and strength. Steroids, too, are supposed to be available only by prescription.
A South Carolina grand jury may meet as early as next month to hear evidence of charges of illegal drug distribution against two former Clemson coaches, both of whom have resigned in the aftermath of Jaspers' death. They are Stan Narewski, 35, former men's track and cross-country coach, and Sam Colson, 33, former women's track and cross-country coach. If the grand jury brings indictments against them for illegally distributing prescription drugs, and if they are found, or plead, guilty, they could face up to 18 months in prison on each charge.
Narewski saved the campus police some legwork when he told them in an interview that he had given Jaspers the bute, which, he said, he had obtained from Colson. In a separate interview, Colson told the Clemson police that he had originally obtained the drug from Tennessee to treat a personal back ailment. Beyond that, Narewski and Colson had steadfastly refused to discuss their alleged involvement in the prescription pipeline—until last week. Then Colson's lawyer, John T. Gentry of Pickens, S.C., broke the silence. In an interview with SI, he admitted that Colson had distributed bute to Clemson athletes. Colson's motive, said Gentry, was "to help the kids, not harm them." Gentry said he fully expects the grand jury to indict Colson. When that happens, he says, his client is prepared to plead guilty. Gentry concluded, "There are no defenses to rely on for trial purposes because it's clean and open that Sam has dispensed [prescription] medication."
Colson, who also served as Clemson's strength and conditioning coach, already has made a confession to South Carolina's State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) agents that he obtained steroids and phenylbutazone for Clemson athletes, according to informed SI sources. Colson's source for these drugs, he told the agents, was E.J. (Doc) Kreis, the Vanderbilt strength coach, and M. Woody Wilson, a pharmacist in Franklin, Tenn.
Wilson admitted last week that he sold steroids to Colson and to as many as 30 Vanderbilt football players in each of the last three seasons, delivering them at times to the campus and accepting payment in cash or by credit or check. Wilson said he sold the drugs to help athletes, not for profit. "All you've got to do is look at my bank account," Wilson said. If found guilty of illegally distributing prescription drugs, Wilson and Kreis could be jailed for a term not to exceed 11 months and 29 days per count. "On the massive scale we believe it is in this case," said Arzo Carson, the director of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI), "it [the sentences] could ultimately be whatever the judge should decide."
Kreis's attorney, Roger May of Nashville, said his client was innocent: "All the speculation and analysis doesn't show anything. You can't base anything on assumption, assumptions that haven't been proven."