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Lawsuit Filed Against Bethune-Cookman Over Student Band Member Death

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — A wrongful death lawsuit claims Bethune-Cookman University failed to stop fraternity hazing that led to the death of a Marching Wildcat band member.

Marcus Thomas, a sophomore on a marching band scholarship, died in February 2012 when the car in which he was riding crashed into a utility pole in Daytona Beach.

In a lawsuit filed in Volusia County Circuit Court, Thomas’ mother says hazing by members of the Pi Gamma chapter of Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia Fraternity of America subjected her son, the car’s driver and other pledges to sleep deprivation.

The lawsuit says the car’s driver fell asleep, leading to the fatal crash. Everyone else in the car survived.

The university and the then-coordinator of Greek Life “had direct knowledge of previous hazing activities occurring in student groups affiliated with BCU, including [the] fraternity, and did little or nothing to discipline the activity, thus sending a message to students that the anti-hazing policy was not enforced by the university,” according to the lawsuit.

Bethune-Cookman officials tell The Daytona Beach News-Journal they could not comment specifically about the lawsuit.

“Bethune-Cookman University prides ourselves on having a zero tolerance on hazing and put mechanisms in place to ensure that doesn’t happen, and if it does, we address it to the fullest,” said Dwaun Warmack, the vice president who heads the department over students and student organizations.

University officials said the fraternity is not affiliated with the marching band, although some band members belong to the organization.

According to the lawsuit, the hazing took place on and off campus and included requiring pledges to stay up all night to study fraternity history and facts.

The night before the crash, Thomas joined four other pledges to memorize fraternity history until 4 a.m. “in fear of what would happen if they did not memorize accurately,” the lawsuit said.

A half-hour later, another fraternity member called them for a quiz at his apartment and kept them there until 8 a.m., according to the lawsuit.

The pledges fell asleep as they drove home and crashed into the utility pole, the lawsuit said.

In court documents, the fraternity’s attorney said the organization could not be held responsible, adding, “Students have been staying up all night to study last minute for quizzes and exams since quizzes and exams have existed.”

The lawsuit seeks damages in excess of $15,000.

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