MIAMI— The family of a Florida A&M University drum major who died of suspected hazing will sue the school, an attorney said Friday.
The family of Robert Champion, 26, is spending the holiday weekend planning Champion’s funeral, attorney Christopher Chestnut told The Associated Press.
The Atlanta resident was found unresponsive on a bus parked outside an Orlando hotel Saturday night after the school’s football team lost to rival Bethune-Cookman. Police said Champion had been vomiting and complained he couldn’t breathe shortly before he collapsed.
The cause of Champion’s death hasn’t been determined, and a spokeswoman with the Orange County medical examiner’s office said it could take up to three months to learn exactly what killed him.
Law enforcement officials have said they believe some form of hazing took place before 911 was called. Chestnut said he also believes the injuries Champion sustained were consistent with hazing.
A spokesman for the school, which was closed for the Thanksgiving holiday, could not be immediately reached for comment Friday morning.
In Florida, any death involving hazing is a third-degree felony.
The fallout from Champion’s death was immediate. On Tuesday, the school shuttered the famed marching band and the rest of the music department’s performances. The next day, longtime band director Julian White was fired. And Florida Gov. Rick Scott said state investigators would join the probe and the college announced an independent review led by a former state attorney general.
Chestnut said Champion’s distraught family believes the actions are “too little, too late.”
Champion, a clarinet player, had recently been named drum major.
“He had worked all of his life to reach that goal and it ultimately cost him his life,” Chestnut said.
The attorney said Champion’s family hopes a lawsuit against the school will help raise awareness about the issue of band hazing.
“This is not an isolated incident,” Chestnut said.
Hazing cases have cropped up in marching bands, especially at historically black colleges where a spot in the marching band is coveted. In many cases the bands are revered almost as much as the sports teams for which they play.
In 2008, two first-year French horn players in Southern University’s marching band were hospitalized after a beating. In 2009, 20 members of Jackson State University’s band were suspended over hazing accusations.
There have been numerous incidents at FAMU. In 2001, Marcus Parker suffered kidney damage after being beaten by a paddle.
Three years earlier, Ivery Luckey, a clarinet player from Ocala, Fla., said he was padded about 300 times, sending him to the hospital. He said he was emotionally and physically scarred. Some 20 band members were suspended and Luckey filed a lawsuit against the state Board of Regents. Reports indicate he settled for $50,000.