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Parents of slain FAMU band member Robert Champion sue bus driver and bus company

Florida A&M Marching 100 Drum Major Robert Champion during a performance at halftime of the game against Howard University at Bragg Memorial Stadium on Oct. 8, 2011 in Tallahassee, Florida. Champion became ill and died after a game on November 19, 2011. AP Photo/Don Juan Moore

FAMU hazing death was retaliation: parents
Florida A&M "Marching 100" Drum Major Robert Champion
AP Photo/Don Juan Moore

(CBS/AP) ORLANDO, Fla. - The parents of a Florida A&M band member who died after being hazed filed a wrongful death lawsuit Monday against the owner and driver of the charter bus where the ritual took place. The suit also revealed new details about what might have happened the night Robert Champion died.

Pictures: Florida A&M University hazing scandal

The suit describes two types of hazing that took place before Champion died on November 19, 2011. During the first, pledges of a band clique known as "Bus C" ran from the front to the back of the bus while other band members slap, kick and hit them, the lawsuit said. A pledge who falls can be stomped and dragged to the front of the bus to run again.

In another ritual known as "the hot seat," a pillow case was placed over the pledge's nose and mouth while the pledge was forced to answer questions. If a pledge got a right answer, the pillow case was removed briefly; a pledge with a wrong answer was given another question without a chance to take a breath, the lawsuit said.

A fellow pledge who was hazed with Champion said band members on the bus treated Champion more brutally than others, according to the lawsuit.

An attorney for the Champion family said he doesn't know exactly why Champion was on the bus. Champion was a drum major, a leader in the band, and had been a vocal opponent of hazing, attorney Chris Chestnut said.

Champion suffered blunt trauma blows and he died from shock caused by severe bleeding, authorities said. Detectives are investigating the death as a homicide.

The lawsuit said bus company managers knew that FAMU band members held hazing rituals regularly on buses after football games but did nothing to stop them and they often times told bus drivers to ignore the hazing.

The bus driver on the night of Champion's death even stood guard outside the bus and forced the 26-year-old Champion back on the bus after he had exited to vomit, the lawsuit said. The lawsuit doesn't explain how Champion was forced back on the bus.

"Am I suggesting that this bus driver hit him? No," Chestnut said. "Am I suggesting that she knowingly aided and abetted? She opened a bus, it was running, the air condition is on. If that's not participation, then I don't know. You availed a venue."

Ray Land, the owner of Fabulous Coach Lines, said in an email Monday that he needed some time to prepare a statement. He told The Associated Press last year that the bus driver was helping students unload their instruments when Champion collapsed.

The lawsuit names the bus driver as Wendy Millette, of Branford, Fla., where the bus company is located. 

Complete Coverage of the FAMU hazing death at Crimesider


  • Crimesider Staff

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