Parents Sue Bus Company in FAMU Hazing Death

By: CBS; Lanetra Bennett Email
By: CBS; Lanetra Bennett Email

Family members of FAMU drum major Robert Champion held a news conference this morning at 11 in Orlando. The family shared new information about the hazing incident they say led to Champion's death.

Updated February 13, 2012

The parents of Marching 100 Drum Major Robert Champion have followed through on their promise to sue the company that owns the charter bus where their son died.

Today (Mon. 2-13,) the attorney for Pam and Robert Champion, Sr. officially filed a lawsuit against 'Fabulous Coach Lines.'

Robert Champion died November 19th in Orlando.

The Marching 100 drum major was found unresponsive on one of the Fabulous charter buses.

Authorities say he died from a hazing incident.

The Champions' attorney, Christopher Chestnut, says, "We've talked with a number of witnesses, with a number of students, with a number of former bus drivers. Unfortunately, we haven't been able to get it under oath. So, now that we've filed a lawsuit, we can go under oath and get to the bottom of it and hopefully eradicate the culture of hazing in America."

The president of 'Fabulous' has told us that his bus company did everything in its power to transport the band safely.

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January 11, 2012 -

The parents of Marching 100 Drum Major Robert Champion say the company that owns the bus their son died on bears some responsibility for his hazing death. The couple is filing a lawsuit against the bus line.

The owner of Fabulous Coach Lines says his drivers delivered the band to the hotel like "precious cargo."

"He loved his music, he loved the band." Pam and Robert Champion, Sr. are suing Fabulous Coach Lines for the death of their son.

Robert Champion died November 19th in Orlando after the Florida Classic Football game. The Marching 100 Drum Major was found unresponsive on board one of Fabulous' charter buses.

The autopsy says he died from blunt trauma from a hazing incident.

The president of Fabulous, Ray Land, told WCTV that his bus company did everything in its power to transport the band safely.

The buses were parked in the lot at the Rozen Plaza Hotel when Champion died. Land says the driver of the bus was not in the driver's seat at that time.

The Champion's attorney, Christopher Chestnut, says, "We've confirmed through witness testimony that the bus was on, that the air condition was on; that as 9-1-1 was called, obviously Robert later perished from injuries sustained in that act," says the Champion family attorney Christopher Chestnut.

Land created a Facebook page in support of the Marching 100 just days after Champion's death.

He says not just because they've transported the band for years, but also as a personal fan.

Robert Champion's parents have not specified exactly what they're suing for.

Chestnut, says, "There indeed was hazing going on on the band bus that evening. In response to that has been an underground, under-current rumor mill that the reason Robert Champion was hazed more severely, hazed to death, was because he was gay. Our investigation does not indicate that."

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Orlando, Florida - January 10, 2012 - Noon -

Family members of FAMU drum major Robert Champion held a news conference this morning at 11 in Orlando. The family shared new information about the hazing incident they say led to Champion's death.

26-year-old Robert Champion collapsed in Orlando, while on a bus carrying members of FAMU's Marching 100 band after the November 19th Florida Classic football game. Some band members have said Champion died after taking part in a hazing ritual.

The Champion Family will sue the company that owns the bus where the hazing took place.
Robert Champion's parents and their attorney told The Associated Press that the bus company's negligence contributed to his death.

The owner of Fabulous Coach Lines, Ray Land, says his staff did everything to get help once they were notified there was a problem.

An autopsy concluded Champion suffered blunt trauma.

Witnesses have told Champion's parents the 26-year-old drum major may have been targeted for severe hazing because of his opposition to the marching band's hazing rituals. Other witnesses have told them Champion was gay, and the fact that he was a candidate for chief drum major, also may have played roles.

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Orlando, Florida - January 10, 2012 - (CBS News)

There's been a new twist in the Florida A&M hazing investigation, as the parents of a student who was beaten to death in November tell CBS News something previously unknown about him: Robert Champion Jr. was gay.

CBS News correspondent Mark Strassmann met the parents, Robert and Pam Champion, in Orlando, Fla., where they made their first visit to the hotel parking lot where their son died after a hazing ritual.

Champion Jr. was a 26 year old drum major in A&M's famed marching band, and he was allegedly pummeled by his band mates.

"There's no way around it. It was wrong," Pam Champion tells CBS News.

On Nov. 19, Champion was found unresponsive aboard a band bus after the school's biggest game of the year. Police ruled the death a homicide from hazing.

About 30 students were on the bus at the time, but no one has been charged, and the Champions have started their own investigation into how their son died.

"The truth will come out as to what happened," says the young man's mother. "I will find out how my son got there, because I know that he would not have willingly, knowingly just walked into that."

Champion family attorney Chris Chestnut says he has now spoken to "a lot" of the people who were there on the day, more than 10 potential witnesses.

Some of the students tell Chestnut they were also hazed that night, but none as severely as Champion. They say he was singled out, possibly because he was both a vocal opponent of hazing and a band disciplinarian, and gay.

"It may or may not have been" his sexual orientation which saw him singled out, says Chestnut, allowing only that it is a "possibility."

Champion's mother says her son "wasn't defined by his sexual orientation. He was just defined as being a child going to school, trying to get an education."

The band had many subgroups in its hazing culture. Champion was hazed aboard the marching band's Bus C - a bus with its own culture, and, his parents believe, its own hazing ritual.

Chestnut says his interviews suggest band members aboard Bus C may have been subjected to hazing violence as they were made to run from the back of the bus to the front, and left to "pray to God they make it off."

The Champions have said they'll sue Florida A&M, and next week they also intend to sue the band's charter bus company.

"We are sorry the young man died," the president of Fabulous Coach Lines told CBS News in a written statement. "Ultimately we did not have anything to do with the student dying. Our responsibility lies with transport."

But Robert Champion's parents say stopping hazing is the responsibility of everyone involved, and they're not done fighting for that cause yet.

"I'm waiting on a solution," says Pam Champion. "Our goal is not to shut down any school. Our goal is not to stop the music. Our goal is to stop the hazing."

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STATEMENT FROM FAMU BAND DIRECTOR’S ATTORNEY REGARDING FAMILY’S CLAIMS THAT ROBERT CHAMPION’S DEATH MAY HAVE BEEN PARTIALLY DUE TO HIS SEXUAL ORIENTATION:

“Assuming that the assertions of the Champion family and their attorney Chris Chestnut are true, then it is entirely possible
that Champion’s tragic death was less about any ritualistic hazing and more tantamount to a hateful and fully conscious
attempt to batter a young man because of his sexual orientation."

"As such, the efforts Dr. White expended to root out and report hazing could not have predicted or prevented
such deliberate barbarity.”

Chuck Hobbs, Attorney for Dr. Julian White


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