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.

________________________

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."

___________________________

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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  • by Quest Location: Everywhere on Feb 14, 2012 at 05:52 PM
    Just a thought, I have been on these buses and they are polite and helpful bus drivers. I have also been on other buses and never had a problem. but then we were chaperoned and responsible adults. The bus driver or company should not be held responsible for the actions of others. They are contracted to provide transportation to and from events. How can a driver monitor adult behavior. I am sorry for the families loss but as a person who has lost family members, this will not bring them back and no amount of money will fix the hurt and grief. A lawsuit against the bus company is over the top. Let us pray that the Jury has some sense in this matter. We all end up paying for these type of lawsuits. Unless the bus company was actively participating in this incident which I highly doubt, they are not responsible for others behavior. If the family feels this way, why aren't they actively suing every member of the band that was on the bus for a failure to report? This is a mockery of the system.
  • by VOTER Location: TALLY, FL on Feb 14, 2012 at 05:13 PM
    I agree with most of the comments that the lawyers and the champion parents is about money suing famu and the bus company. The next to be sued by the lawyer will be the hotel where the bus was parked. So sad the champion is putting money before anything else.
    • reply
      by Anonymous on Feb 14, 2012 at 06:39 PM in reply to VOTER
      In order to do anything else, it takes money duh...
  • by Anonymous on Feb 14, 2012 at 03:36 PM
    What does the bus company have to do with that incident.... It wasnt their fault... This is sad that this company have to suffer udder for something they had no control over... I'm sorry but this suit has very little chance of succeeding.. It shouldn't honestly
  • by fiuson on Feb 14, 2012 at 01:02 PM
    Mr. & Mrs. Champion should be ashamed of themselves. Have some class and lay blame where it truly belongs, don't show everyone you have no class by suing everyone and everything that can improve your bottom line.
  • by Concerned in Tally Location: Tallahassee on Feb 14, 2012 at 12:28 PM
    While I understand the emotions they must be going through I don't see where the bus company could be held liable. That is a far stretch! The school yes the ban absolutely but the bus company? IDK
    • reply
      by Anonymous on Feb 14, 2012 at 06:38 PM in reply to Concerned in Tally
      A man was killed on their bus! Where was the bus driver?
      • reply
        by Juan Fangio on Feb 15, 2012 at 01:59 AM in reply to
        I would expect that he was behind the steering wheel. Next they will be looking for the persons parked near the bus in the parking lot.
      • reply
        by OMG on Feb 15, 2012 at 05:13 AM in reply to
        You have got to be kidding me, these are grown adults who caused this. And you are really going to make the bus driver responsible? I know when we have taken trips like this, the bus driver is off duty until it is time for him/her to leave. They maybe getting a bite to eat. I have known of them to have a hotel room, and relax in it during long events. So do not make the bus driver responsible. This has nothing at all to do with the driver or the company. This has to do with "GROWN" adults making a very bad decision which end tragically in the death of their child. But instead of being sue happy they need to push to punish the culprits, not trying to line their wallets.
  • by bus type on Feb 14, 2012 at 12:21 PM
    this was not a bus that was full of elementary kids, where the driver is more responsible for what goes on. this was a bus full of so called adults, or people over 18. It is now obvious none of them were adults, and I can't wait to see some of them arrested.
  • by Anonymous on Feb 14, 2012 at 10:27 AM
    why don't the parents file a civil suit against the suspects families??...because they wouldnt get anything!!Bottom line is keep them off of your bus or any property and there shouldnt be any problems.
    • reply
      by Sonny on Feb 14, 2012 at 12:36 PM in reply to
      Exactly!! Gotta go where the money is, even though I'm SURE the next sentence out of the family's mouth will be "it's not about the money".
    • reply
      by Anonymous on Feb 14, 2012 at 12:57 PM in reply to
      You have to go after those that have the money. The State, FAMU, and the bus company.
  • by TallyChick on Feb 14, 2012 at 10:15 AM
    I think going after the bus company is a bit too much. It's not the bus company's responsibility to babysit the adults that ride their bus. Their responsibility is to drive. But....if the bus company/driver knew that illegal actions were going on in their bus I would think they are required by law to contact the police and report it. Either way...if the family wins this case and ends up getting a ton of money, I really hope they donate ALL of it to a good cause or to a scholarship program in remembrance of their son.
    • reply
      by Sonny on Feb 14, 2012 at 12:37 PM in reply to TallyChick
      They won't. They'll keep it all. And now you'll have bus drivers who refuse to drive for school events. I know I wouldn't.
      • reply
        by Anonymous on Feb 14, 2012 at 02:46 PM in reply to Sonny
        if it were me that would depend on what school it was...a school like famu or bethune cookman---hell no!!
  • by ald on Feb 14, 2012 at 09:49 AM
    Why do people keep calling this 26 year old man a child? Why should a bus driver be responsible for the behavior of a group of adults? The parents should realize their son chose to participate in hazing and the only ones responsible are him and the people who beat him.
    • reply
      by Thank You! on Feb 15, 2012 at 05:14 AM in reply to ald
      AMEN!
  • by Wait. What? on Feb 14, 2012 at 09:41 AM
    Gush, I wonder why this is not a story about the parents screaming for the prosecution of those who actually murdered their "beloved" son. Oh, wait, I know why . . .
    • reply
      by Sonny on Feb 14, 2012 at 12:39 PM in reply to Wait. What?
      ;)
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