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Wednesday, November 23, 2011
Hazing suspected in Florida A&M death

ESPN.com news services

ORLANDO, Fla. -- It could take up to three months to learn exactly what caused the death of a Florida A&M University band member whom investigators suspect was the victim of hazing, an official said Wednesday.

Robert Champion, 26, a drum major, was found unresponsive on a bus parked outside an Orlando hotel on Saturday night after Florida A&M lost to rival Bethune-Cookman. Investigators believe hazing occurred before 911 was called. Champion was vomiting and had complained he couldn't breathe before he collapsed.

The exact cause and manner of Champion's death remains undetermined pending the autopsy results, said Sheri Blanton, a forensic coordinator for the state medical examiner. There is no timetable for results, but most cases take 10 to 12 weeks, she said.

Florida governor Gov. Rick Scott wrote the head of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement on Wednesday and told him to work with the Orange County sheriff's office and any other agencies to determine how Champion died.

No charges have been filed in the case. Any death involving hazing is a third-degree felony in Florida.

Florida A&M officials have acknowledged that 30 students have been kicked off the band this semester due to hazing incidents, resulting in three active investigations.

On Tuesday, officials at the Tallahassee school suspended the famed Marching 100 band and any other ensemble that performs under the supervision of the school music department. The move affects more than 400 students.

Hazing cases in marching bands have cropped up over the years, particularly at historically black colleges, where a spot in the marching band is coveted and 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 being beaten. A year later, 20 members of Jackson State University's band were suspended after being accused of hazing.

One of the worst cases involved a former band member at Florida A&M who suffered kidney damage because of a beating with a paddle.

Florida A&M's Marching 100, which has performed at several Super Bowls and represented the United States in Paris at the 200th anniversary of the French Revolution, was scheduled to perform at the school's fall commencement on Dec. 16.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.