By Barbara Liston
ORLANDO, Fla (Reuters) - The parents of a Florida college drum major killed in an apparent hazing incident sued a company on Monday that owns the bus on which he died, accusing the driver of guiding an injured and sick Robert Champion Jr. back onto the vehicle.
Robert and Pam Champion filed the wrongful death and negligence lawsuit against Fabulous Coach Lines and bus driver Wendy Millette, and were asking for an unspecified amount of damages. The bus company has denied any wrongdoing.
Their son was killed in what the medical examiner has ruled a homicide in the course of hazing by the celebrated Florida A & M University Marching "100" band. The beating took place while the bus was parked at an Orlando hotel following a band performance at a football game.
No one has yet been charged in the death.
The family's lawyer had previously said the suit would help them find out what happened to their 26-year-old son by forcing witnesses to testify under oath about the November incident.
The lawsuit accuses the driver, Millette, of being a participant in hazing rituals that occurred annually following a typically sold-out football game and band competition in Orlando between Florida A & M and another historically black university.
It said that other Fabulous Coach Lines drivers had previously complained about hazing but were "instructed by Fabulous Coach administration to ignore it and that FAMU was paying for it and could do what they want."
The suit said that at one point, Champion appeared at the bus door and began vomiting in the parking lot.
"Defendant Millette was standing 'guard' at the door of the bus to monitor ingress and egress to Bus C. Defendant Millette, upon seeing the injured decedent, ignored the apparent health risks of (Champion) vomiting," the lawsuit said.
"Defendant Millette advised (Champion) that he would be alright as she forced him back on the bus," it added.
The Champion family has previously said it planned to sue the university over the death, but must wait six months before filing under state law.
CHAMPION WAS A STICKLER FOR RULES
The owner of Fabulous Coach Lines, Ray Land, has previously said the company did "everything in its power" to safely transport the passengers. The company did not immediately return a call for comment on Monday, and Millette could not immediately be reached.
"What isn't our responsibility is the passengers getting along," Land said previously. "If two passengers get in a fight, that really doesn't fall in the range of our responsibility."
Champion's parents, in a recent press conference, said their son was known as a stickler for the rules and for not submitting himself to hazing rituals.
The lawsuit said that after the football game and competition, the band had unloaded and disembarked from the buses and gone into the hotel by 8:30 p.m.
Every bus except Bus C parked side by side in the hotel's designated bus parking area. Bus C parked separately in "an obscured corner of the parking lot," the lawsuit said.
By about 9:30 p.m., more than 20 band members and alumni were on board Bus C with the engine on, the air conditioning running and interior lights on.
Champion was subjected to a hazing ritual known as the "hot seat" in which a pillow case is placed over a person's head, and air flow is cut off and on depending on the how the person answers certain questions, the lawsuit said.
One band student who was sitting next to Champion and had just been hazed himself considered the abuse of Champion "more brutal than normal." The band student tried to help Champion but was pinned down in his seat, the lawsuit said.
Other drivers who saw the bus rocking were told by Millette to ignore it and move on, the lawsuit said.
(Editing By Cynthia Johnston)