ORLANDO (CBSMiami/AP) – The parents of Robert Champion, a Florida A&M University band member who died after a hazing ritual last November, plan to sue the company that owns the bus where the hazing took place.
Christopher Chestnut, an attorney for the Champions, said the bus company’s negligence contributed to Robert Champion’s death because band members were allowed to get back on the bus to conduct hazing rituals after they had returned to an Orlando hotel following a football game.
“The bus company has some liability,” said Chestnut. “They knew or should have known that hazing was occurring on the bus.”
Ray Land, the owner of Fabulous Coach Lines, said his staff did everything to get help once they were notified there was a problem.
Witnesses have told Champion’s parents that the 26-year-old drum major may have been targeted for severe hazing because of his opposition to the marching band’s culture of hazing. Other witnesses have told them Champion being gay, and the fact that he was a candidate for chief drum major, also may have played roles.
An autopsy ruled Champion’s death a homicide. It concluded Champion suffered blunt trauma blows to his body and died from shock caused by severe bleeding.
But the Champions and their attorney said they are uncertain how or why Champion was on the bus since it was well known that hazing rituals took place on the bus. Band members, mainly percussionists, would return from the game, drop their gear off in their hotel rooms and return to the bus to haze others who wanted to be indoctrinated into the organization, Chestnut said.
“The truth will come out as to what happened and I will find out how my son got there. I know that he would not have willingly, knowingly, walked into that,” said Robert Champion’s mother Pam.
The Champions discount homophobia as a major motive in their son’s hazing since other band members had known about his sexual orientation for years and had never bothered him about it.
“His sexual orientation was not something he was defined by,” Chestnut said. “He was more defined by music. This was not something that he quote, unquote ‘advertised.’ It was a part of who he was.”
The Champions are unable to file a lawsuit against FAMU for another several months because of state law setting up procedures for suing public entities. Suing the bus company will allow the Champions’ attorneys to depose witnesses and gather documents.
Any death involving hazing is a third-degree felony in Florida, but no charges have been filed so far in Champion’s death. In a separate case, three band members were arrested in the Oct. 31 beating of a woman band member whose thigh bone was broken.
Band director Julian White was initially fired by FAMU President James Ammons, then re-instated and put on administrative leave. Four students dismissed by the university were also reinstated while authorities work on the investigation.
Trustees have reprimanded Ammons, but the board rejected Gov. Rick Scott’s recommendation that he also be placed on administrative leave.
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