The parents of Florida A&M University (FAMU) band member, Robert Champion, have filed a wrongful death suit as of last Monday; specifically against the owner and driver of the charter bus where they allege a brutal hazing ritual took place. The lawsuit maintains that the company’s managers have told drivers to ignore hazing rituals among students.
The lawsuit further alleges that the driver of the bus stood guard outside the vehicle the night Champion died. The driver allegedly forced the drum major back onto the bus after Champion got off the bus in order to vomit, although the suit does not stipulate how Champion was forced to do so.
Fabulous Coach Lines owner, Ray Land, sent an email saying that he needed time to prepare a statement regarding the case. Last year, he told the Associated Press that the driver was helping students unload instruments when Champion fell over.
The suit further reveals new details regarding the hazing that Champion allegedly suffered before he died. Two types of hazing were mentioned. In the first, pledges of the band clique Bus C were forced to run a gauntlet from the front of the bus to the back while other band members attacked them with slaps, kicks, hits and trips. Pledges who fell were stomped, then dragged to the front of the bus in order to make them run the gauntlet again.
The second ritual was called ‘the hot seat,’ in which a pillow case is placed over the pledge’s face while forcing them to answer questions. Answering a question correctly allowed the pledge to breathe for a moment before the next question was asked, while failing to provide the correct answer meant the pledge had to answer a new question without the mask being removed.
“Am I suggesting that this bus driver hit him? No,” Champion family attorney, Chris 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.”
The school’s board of governors, overseeing Florida’s 11 public universities, opened an investigation this past November into allegations FAMU officials had ignored prior warnings about hazing incidents. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement is conducting its own separate investigation into the band’s finances.