Every year lawmakers file dozens of claims bills for Floridians who have been harmed by state-backed organizations. But very few of them are ever funded. This year is no different. Two lawmakers, along with some former NFL football players, are hoping to change the fate of at least one of those bills.
It was a late February day in 2001, and Devaughn Darling had just finished running a grueling set of practice drills under the watchful eyes of his coaches. Darling collapsed. He was rushed to the emergency room, but he never woke up. The cause of death “physical overexertion.” Former FSU and NFL player Corey Simon was there the day Devaughn died. He prayed and helped comfort identical twin, Devard.
“It didn’t seem that long ago," Simon said. "And I’m sure for this family, it’s been 15 long years. I won’t get into the politics of what this all is. I’m here for Devard and I’m here for the family, just like I was the day this all happened. And I’m going to always support them and always support him because he’s a brother of FSU. A university we all attended and one I’m extremely proud of.”
Devaughn’s identical twin brother Devard was also his teammate at FSU. Shortly after his brother’s death, Devard transferred to Washington State. He was later drafted by the Baltimore Ravens.
“It’s been a bitter sweet relationship with Florida State ever since February 26, 2001. And it’s a day I’ll never, never forget," he said.
Devard created the As One Foundation, which provides young athletes with scholarships and summer camps. As the story goes, no one realized when Devard was born that he had a twin. It wasn’t until he emerged, with his brother, Devaughn’s hand gripping his ankle, that doctors and his surprised parents knew. According to the foundation’s website, doctors claimed the oversight must have been because the twins’ hearts were beating as one.
"I want to believe our humanity is not lost. I want to believe that our compassion endeurs. And I want to believe our word has honor. That we will finally do what is right and what was agreed to 15 long years ago," said Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa.
Joyner has carried a claims bill for the Darling family for seven years. She says former Tallahassee Sen. Al Lawson pushed the bill for five years before that. The legislation has languished in the Florida legislature for 12 years. Florida State University inked a settlement deal with the Darling family for $2 million in 2004. But state sovereign immunity laws only allowed the university to pay out $200,000. The legislature has to award the rest. Joyner, and House co-sponsor Rep. Mia Jones are calling on the chairs of the first reference committees, Sen. Miguel Diaz De La Portilla and Rep. Kathleen Passidomo, to take up the bills:
“I said to her, 'I know that you are a woman who has a heart,'" Jones said. "That you understand what being a mother is. And I simply asked her to put herself in Mrs. Wendy’s shoes and to give justice to this family, and put an end to this torturous, torturous journey that they’ve been on.”
Devaughn Darling died at 18. And the wait for lawmakers to approve a claims bill for the family, will have taken the majority of the time he was alive.