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DECATUR | Lawsuit details FAMU drum major's final moments

1:03 PM, Feb 16, 2012   |    comments
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Robert Champion

ATLANTA -- It's been nearly three months since Florida A&M's Marching 100 Band last took to the field, giving a much-anticipated halftime performance at the Florida Classic.
Only hours later, one of the stars of that performance was dead. Drum major Robert Champion, a Decatur native, collapsed and died on a bus outside of the band's Orlando hotel. Officials later ruled his death a homicide, saying he was essentially beaten to death. A victim of hazing.
But what exactly happened on that bus?
For months, much of what happened that night has remained a secret. The so-called "hazing culture" demands that all involved, even pledges, stay quiet.
A lawsuit filed Monday brought much of that to light. Pam and Robert Champion, Sr. are suing Fabulous Coach Lines, alleging management had known for years about hazing rituals, and that one of the bus drivers even stood guard outside as Champion and others were hazed.
The lawsuit also details what Champion's parents believe happened in the last minutes of their son's life. According to witnesses, he participated in a ritual called The "Hot Seat," where a pledge sits in a seat with a pillowcase over his head to block airflow. He must then answer a series of questions while bandmates beat him. If he answers correctly, the case is removed so he can take a breath. Give an incorrect answer and the pillowcase stays on.
The lawsuit describes a second ritual, crossing "Bus C." Here, the pledge must run from the front to the back of the bus while bandmates stand between seats, punching and kicking him along the way. If a pledge falls, he can be stomped or kicked and is taken back to the front to begin again.
The lawsuit states Champion was not the only one hazed that night, but another pledge said Champion's hazing was "more brutal than normal," even trying to help Champion at one point, but was held back.
According to Christopher Chestnut, the Champions' attorney, the bus was running with the air-conditioning on.
"Absent the bus driver's consent and access to the bus, there would have been no "Bus C,"" he said.
The lawsuit claims at one point, Champion got off the bus and began vomiting, but driver Wendy Millette "forced him back on." The lawsuit said he was then subjected to more beating and passed out shortly thereafter.
Contacted Wednesday, Fabulous Coach Lines did not immediately respond to the allegations. Last month, owner Ray Land told 11Alive he had no knowledge of hazing.


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