Family, prep school at odds over funds raised after teen’s death in elevator collapse

During a news conference Thursday, Attorney Shean Williams says the family of JauMarcus McFarland have not received the funds raised to cover the teen's funeral.
Caption
During a news conference Thursday, Attorney Shean Williams says the family of JauMarcus McFarland have not received the funds raised to cover the teen's funeral.

Credit: ASIA SIMONE BURNS / ASIA.BURNS@AJC.COM

Attorneys want the money promised to family, but school says it hasn’t arrived

Attorneys for the family of an 18-year-old student-athlete who was killed in an elevator collapse in Atlanta say that although the teenager was buried nearly a month ago, they still have not received the funds his school promised them for his funeral.

But the school’s director says the reason for that is simple: The money hasn’t arrived yet.

The attorneys representing the family said they are considering legal action to ensure the money raised through a GoFundMe account created in JauMarcus McFarland’s memory is given to their clients. During a news conference Thursday, Shean Williams of the Cochran Firm said he has been in touch with McFarland’s former school, Champion Prep Academy, frequently since the campaign was created one day after his death Aug. 31.

JauMarcus McFarland
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JauMarcus McFarland

Credit: GoFundMe

Credit: GoFundMe

“The bottom line is after six weeks, this family has not gotten the funds that the public gave,” Williams said.

Williams contends the prep academy has evaded numerous attempts to transfer the funds to McFarland’s parents. But Michael Carson, McFarland’s coach at Champion Prep Academy, pushed back against that accusation, saying he has not received the funds due to various approvals needed in GoFundMe’s verification process.

“In my opinion, they are trying to paint a picture that we are doing something wrong and that’s just not the case,” Carson told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Thursday.

McFarland died after an elevator at the 444 Highland Avenue apartment complex where he and his teammates lived malfunctioned. According to authorities, several of McFarland’s teammates were inside the elevator at the time. Though the others made it out safely, the teen became trapped.

He was lodged between the elevator and the floor when first responders arrived on the scene, according to an Atlanta police report obtained by the AJC.

The teenager was killed in an elevator collapse at 444 Highland Avenue.
Caption
The teenager was killed in an elevator collapse at 444 Highland Avenue.

Credit: Jenni Girtman

Credit: Jenni Girtman

The owners of 444 Highland have since been cited and fined $5,000 in McFarland’s death after the Office of the Insurance and Safety Fire Commissioner found they had failed to “notify the Chief Inspector of an accident which involved a death.”

McFarland’s stepfather, James Boyce, previously said he was struggling to comprehend what had happened to his child. McFarland’s mother, Jessica Moore, said she was overwhelmed. McFarland would have turned 19 years old Friday, according to Williams.

“We’ve lost a young man at an early age that was clearly preventable and predictable based on what we’ve learned,” he said. “But why this case continues to be tragic is because of what this family has to continue to deal with as it relates to the people who could have prevented this incident from happening, specifically Champion Prep Academy.”

Williams said it has been six weeks since McFarland’s family was approached by Champion Prep and asked if the school could set up a GoFundMe on their behalf.

“As tragic as it is to lose a child, it is more tragic to know we’ve been given the runaround in the distribution of those funds,” he said, adding that he believes the process to transfer the financial contributions should take less than a week.

Carson pointed to GoFundMe’s partnership with PayPal and their verification requirements as the reason the process is taking longer than that.

Donations made through GoFundMe are received by the PayPal Giving Fund before being disbursed to a campaign organizer. According to their website, a charity enrolled in the giving fund will receive a payout about the 25th of each month.

However, before the funds are distributed, certain organizations such as charities or nonprofits must go through an authorization process, the site said.

Carson said Champion Prep has completed that process, but due to PayPal’s policy the funds won’t be released before Oct. 25.

“They seem to feel like the funds should have been available in two to five days,” Carson said. “They don’t have an understanding of what this process is all about.”

Carson told the AJC that McFarland was beloved by his teammates and by his coaches in the Champion Prep program.

“JauMarcus was a scholarship student,” he said. “We assumed the full cost of him playing with us. And that’s a testament to how we feel about having him in our program.”

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