‘Pain of losing him is unbearable’: Family of Cesar Chavez football player who drowned files lawsuit

Cesar Chavez High School players wore No. 5 on their helmets in honor of Christopher Hampton during the 2023 football season. Hampton’s family filed a $50 million lawsuit Monday. (File photo by Beatriz Martinez/Cronkite News)

PHOENIX – The family of the Cesar Chavez High School student who drowned during a football camping trip filed a lawsuit Monday claiming four counts of gross negligence and wrongful death of their son.

On July 17, Christopher Hampton, 15, was reported missing to authorities after the team traveled to Show Low Lake. The following day, the Navajo County Sheriff’s office revealed on social media that his body was found, and his death was confirmed to be an “accident” on Oct. 19.

Although the Phoenix Union High School District is named as the primary defendant, the Blue Ridge Unified School District, the City of Show Low and Recreation Management of America are also named for negligence/gross negligence.

“We love and miss Christopher dearly. He was an amazing young man, wonderful student and had a bright future ahead of him. The pain of losing him is unbearable. We hope the lawsuit will bring our son justice,” the Hampton family said in a statement.

Monday morning marked a major advancement in the case when Hampton’s family, specifically Christopher’s mother, Tonisha Johnson, filed a lawsuit for $50 million, which was expected after a notice of claim was filed in October.

“The reason why we filed a lawsuit is to make sure that this doesn’t ever happen to another student again,” the family’s attorney, Benjamin Taylor, told Cronkite News. “We want to make sure there is accountability.”

The suit alleges that “the coaches at Cesar Chavez High School knew Chris was not a strong swimmer” and that they “left him in the lake, struggling to stay on a buoy as the sun went down.”

In early February, the Phoenix Union High School District released an updated version of its travel policy for students that was approved by the district’s governing board, which sparked more conversation about the case.

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“This shows that they are guilty of everything,” Taylor said in the week following the travel policy’s release. “The fact that they’re bringing out new policies now and not prior to this, this shows that they messed up.”

The amended travel policy, which will be effective July 1, 2024, outlines a list of “prohibited activities” that require prior approval from the district administration. This includes but is not limited to “all water activities.”

According to the district, this update in policy is relatively routine.

Within the general allegations listed in the lawsuit, the family claims that Hampton’s coaches “failed to take any sort of head count before leaving the lake” and that they were “so grossly negligent that they did not know Chris was still swimming as the other players boarded buses to drive back to camp.”

Detective James Shreeve of the Navajo County Sheriff’s Office summarized the conversation he had with then-head coach William Chipley on the night of July 17 in the official police report, in which he stated he left the lake area to drive to a nearby Walmart for “popsicles and drinks” while knowing students were in the water.

In the same conversation, Chipley stated that Hampton’s mother had mentioned his lack of swimming skills before the trip, and that she had initially found out that he was missing from a student rather than from law enforcement.

Taylor hopes the lawsuit will spark action from the district.

“With a lawsuit, they’re going to be brought in front of the court, and they have to respond,” Taylor said. “They have to figure it out and be held accountable in a court of law in front of a jury and in front of a judge.”

When contacted by Cronkite News, district spokesman Richard Franco said, “The Phoenix Union High School District does not comment on active litigation or potential legal matters.”

Sports Reporter, Phoenix

Maxwell Williams expects to graduate in Spring 2026 with a bachelor’s degree in sports journalism and a minor in Spanish linguistic studies. Williams has written for the East Valley Tribune.