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Parents of college hazing victim sue bus company

By Barbara Liston

ORLANDO, Florida (Reuters) - The parents of a Florida university drum major killed in a hazing incident plan to sue the company that owns the bus on which he died, they said on Tuesday.

Robert and Pam Champion are filing the lawsuit against Fabulous Coach Lines to force witnesses to testify under oath about what happened to their son Robert Champion Jr. on board a chartered bus last November, according to their lawyer.

Champion 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 been charged yet in the death.

The owner of Fabulous Coach Lines, Ray Land, said the company had done "everything in its power" to safely transport the passengers.

"What isn't our responsibility is the passengers getting along," he said. "If two passengers get in a fight, that really doesn't fall in the range of our responsibility."

The Champion family has previously said they plan to sue the university over their son's death, but they must wait six months before filing under state law.

At Tuesday's press conference, Robert and Pam Champion confirmed that their son was gay, but rejected what they called "rumors" that his sexual orientation made him a hazing target.

Pam Champion said her son was defined not by his sexuality but by his leadership skills. She said he was known to reject hazing.

"Perhaps one of the motives might have been retaliatory," she said.

In the course of a private investigation, family attorney Christopher Chestnut said his office had spoken to more than 10 band members.

Chestnut said he determined that at the time of the incident, the bus was running but the interior lights were turned off.

"We don't know exactly who did what to Robert," Chestnut said, adding that detectives have not spoken to him or the family.

Robert Champion Sr. said he knew nothing about the 50-year culture of hazing among FAMU band members when he sent his son off to school.

Champion said he regularly spoke by phone to his son. "He never mentioned anything to me about hazing."

Pam Champion said the family's goal is to stop hazing to prevent further deaths and injuries, and she cautioned parents to be vigilant.

"The whole thing is, talk to your kids," she said. "Think twice when your kids are going off the college."

(Reporting By Barbara Liston; editing by Paul Thomasch)

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