After a year fraught with challenges and tragedies in the Wake Forest community, another painful blow came earlier this month in the form of a criminal charge levelled against assistant basketball coach Jamill Jones.
Jones is facing a third-degree assault charge after an Aug. 5 altercation in Queens, NY that led to the death of 35-year-old Sandor Szabo, who was visiting from Boca Raton, FL.
Wake Forest Athletics Director Ron Wellman spoke with Jones on Aug. 10, and the decision was made to place Jones on leave.
In a public statement, Wake Forest Athletic Communications said, “Wake Forest University expresses heartfelt condolences to Sandor Szabo’s family and friends following his tragic death.”
Wake Forest Athletic Communications declined to comment further on the incident at this time.
The New York Post reported that Szabo, who may have been intoxicated at the time, had been knocking on car windows while searching for his Uber driver when a nearby resident confronted Szabo.
At some point during this exchange, Jones exited his vehicle and punched Szabo, who fell to the ground and struck his head on the pavement. Szabo died on Aug. 7 due to the injuries he suffered during this engagement.
Jones left the scene of the incident, but reportedly discovered through social media on Tuesday, Aug. 7 that police were searching for him, as Szabo had been seriously injured. CNN reported that Jones and his attorney, Alain Massena, arranged for him to be turned in on Thursday, Aug. 9 after Jones realized that he was a suspect.
Jones was later released on his own recognizance after entering a plea of not guilty during his arraignment.
“This was a tragic incident and Mr. Jones is extremely sorry for the Szabo’s loss of their son,” Massena said in a statement. “Mr. Jones presented himself to the relevant authorities and is fully cooperating with the legal process that is underway.”
The medical examiner’s office later ruled the death a homicide, causing speculation that Jones’ charge could be upgraded, but the significance of this ruling is likely minimal.
“All that the language of ‘homicide’ means is that the death was not a suicide and not due to natural causes,” said David B. Freedman, a Winston-Salem attorney and criminal law expert. “No legal conclusions can be made from that. It just means that someone else caused the death.”
The Queens District Attorney’s Office stated in an interview with the Old Gold & Black that, “The investigation is still continuing, but there has been no upgrade of charges at this time. We will consider all evidence in the case.”
It could be significant that the charges have not yet been upgraded, as Jones is scheduled to appear in court on Oct. 2, just over a month from now.
“At this point, the fact that charges have not be upgraded, means that they may not ever be upgraded,” Freedman said. “If you are acting in defense of yourself or others, you have the right to meet the physical force being used against you.”
The picture of the early morning confrontation that lead to Szabo’s death remains somewhat unclear, as Jones’ side of the story has yet to be heard by the public, and it perhaps could stay that way until Jones appears in court in October.
Jones’ family emphasized his qualities as a father and coach in a public statement reported by ABC News: “Jamill Jones is a wonderful son and father — a good-hearted man. As the father of two young children, their safety and wellbeing is of the utmost importance to him at all times. As a coach, Jamill safely shepherds young men to be respectful contributors to society while competing at the highest levels of collegiate sports.”
When Jones joined the program in May 2017, head coach Danny Manning lauded him as a “well-respected bright mind in our profession.”
The parents of Sandor Szabo appeared on The Today Show and condemned Jones’ decision to leave the scene, asking, “If you are this good father, son and husband, why not try to take him to the hospital and see if you can save his life?”
The digital marketing company for which Szabo worked, What If Media Group, recalled “his bright smile, his positive attitude, his passion for our company … and his love of family” on Aug. 8 in a Facebook post.