CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Family and friends asked the public to wear bright colors Sunday at the vigil for Polly Rogers. They celebrated Rogers' 20 years of life at the Star Quad on the campus of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.
Rogers, a student at the school, died last week after police said she fell out of an emergency window on a party bus headed toward uptown Charlotte.
Rogers was involved with the Zeta Tau Alpha Sorority. More than 150 Zeta sisters honored her with a ceremony on Sunday.
“She is so much more than a girl who fell out of a bus. She is a beautiful human and she should be remembered as that,” said Alexa Burns, UNCC’s ZTA chapter president.
"We're all 49ers, so I'm just glad that, as a collective, we're able to take the time out to memorialize her,” said UNC Charlotte student Aba Hutchinson.
The ceremony started with an old ritual that Zetas perform each time one of their sorority sisters dies.
Scriptures from the Bible were recited and friends shared their fondest memories, praising Rogers for her inclusiveness and always being the bright light in the room.
Her friends said they want Rogers remembered for her kindness. Her closest friends described her as selfless, passionate, ambitious and always brightening everyone's day.
"In just five days without Polly, we realize how much she has already left a legacy,” one sorority sister said. “She has already brought people to church to remember their faith in Jesus, making our Zeta sisterhood stronger than it has ever been and strengthening the UNCC Greek community in a profound way."
Rogers lived in the ZTA home with more than two dozen others and was majoring in special education, which was one of her biggest passions.
"If Polly had one thing to tell you all, it would be to cherish your friends and your passions,” another sorority sister said. “Lift each other up, go after what you believe in and never hold back."
Rogers’ favorite quote, “Be kind to one another,” was displayed for all to see.
Her sorority sisters challenged everyone here to live like Rogers did.
"Live your life to the fullest, to treat others with utmost respect and to love with your most genuine heart,” a sorority sister said.
A celebration of life service will be held at 2 p.m. on Monday at St. John's Episcopal Church on Carmel Road, which will be followed by a funeral service.
UNCC student's death still under investigation
Police are still investigating Rogers' death.
The UNC Charlotte chapter of Kappa Sigma fraternity has been suspended by their national organization pending an investigation into Rogers' death.
The bus was rented by the fraternity and alcohol was found on board, police said.
“The Kappa Sigma fraternity will fully cooperate with all investigations of the University and all local authorities,” said Mitchell Wilson, executive director of Kappa Sigma fraternity.
"Suspending them is a good decision for our campus, showing that there are consequences to those types of decisions," student Pamela Peters said after learning of the decision.
Also Thursday, a report released by Charlotte-Mecklenburg police said multiple people on board the bus were drinking alcohol.
The bizarre incident happened around 10:25 p.m. Tuesday on North Tryon Street near the intersection of Sugar Creek Road in northeast Charlotte. Witnesses said Rogers fell out of the emergency window of a Charlotte Party Charters bus and was hit by two cars.
The police report on the incident says the bus was taking people to a bar in uptown Charlotte from an off-campus house on Mallard Creek Church Road.
“Alcohol use is an unknown factor at this time for the victim, however, alcohol was being consumed on the bus by multiple occupants,” says the report.
Police want to talk to any witnesses who may have seen what happened and urge them to call Crime Stoppers at (704) 334-1600.
"The cars hit her before they could even get the bus driver to stop the bus," explained the father of one of the other passengers on board. "My heart goes out to the parents because my son was standing right there."
He also explained how it happened.
"The girl leaned against the window -- which evidently was an emergency exit window -- and my son says the latches were broke, evidently, and she fell out," he said. "I don't think the girl did anything wrong. All she did was lean against the window."
Officers said Rogers fell out of a window on the right side of the bus as it was moving, and landed in the center lane of North Tryon Street before being struck.
She was pronounced dead at the scene.
Witnesses said the scene was chaotic.
"Out of nowhere I just come out of nowhere and started yelling, ‘Yo, stop, stop, stop, slow down, slow down, call 911, call 911. Call an ambulance! Everybody (just) kept driving and driving and driving," said Juan Vasquez.
Rogers was a member of the Zeta Tau Alpha sorority.
"It's mind-blowing to think that we were all celebrating the last day of classes last night. I never would have imagined anything like that to have happened," said fellow student Cassidy Carvalho.
"Polly was the friendliest person you would ever meet in your life. She could always be found in the common areas of the house greeting sisters after their day at classes and making sure their day was going great," said Zeta Tau Alpha chapter President Alexis Marie Burns.
Channel 9 was told that Rogers was an emerging leader in her chapter, and served in multiple roles, including the recruitment committee. UNCC said she was studying special education at the Cato College of Education.
"Her professors describe her as warm and caring, as do others who had the pleasure of knowing her," said Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Kevin W. Bailey.
Police said the bus stopped and remained at the scene after Rogers fell. Channel 9 watched as officers interviewed distraught passengers.
Kristin Jones, Rogers' former cheerleading coach, was in disbelief about the tragedy.
"It doesn't really seem fair to lose someone so young," Jones said. “It’s such a tragic, unexpected accident."
Jones told Channel 9 she found out through a text message that the former Myers Park High School cheerleader was killed in the bizarre accident.
"I was in complete shock. I couldn't believe it," Jones said.
Jones said Rogers had a huge heart for children. Her favorite memory of Rogers was when she volunteered at the Levine’s Children Hospital during the summer.
“She was such a special spirit and that's definitely something I will always remember about her -- sharing that Levine Children’s Hospital experience together," Jones said.
The cheerleading coach is working with other cheerleaders to come up with a special way to honor Rogers during her celebration of life.
So far, no charges have been filed. Alcohol Law Enforcement agents said they are following the case closely and suspect alcohol was onboard the bus, which was operated by Charlotte Party Charters.
An ALE agent told Channel 9 he's no stranger to Charlotte Party Charters' owner, Victor Rabb. The agent is currently working undercover on an unrelated investigation, but he shared previous issues they've had with the company.
"Yes, we've seen violations at the previous encounters. Alcohol violations, some commercial motor vehicle violations," he explained.
But investigators cautioned it will take time to determine if alcohol played any role in Tuesday night's incident.
"We're going to look at what the detectives find out and see if we can trace a source of alcohol," said the agent.
Channel 9 went to two of the multiple addresses associated with Charlotte Party Charters. It was registered on Freedom Drive, but it is not operating from that location.
Eyewitness News also found a website for the company that was taken down by Wednesday afternoon. It showed a policy on alcohol that states alcohol is allowed, but if there is alcohol on the bus, then everyone must be 21, and they must be required to show proof of their age.
But under terms of service, it states, "we are not responsible for verifying the ages of your passengers," and that the person renting the bus is liable for anyone drinking underage.
But ALE agents told Channel 9 that is the responsibility of the driver of the bus.
"The driver of the bus is in charge," said the ALE agent.
At this point, the owner of the company and the bus driver are not charged with any violations.
Rabb declined to speak with Channel 9 on camera Wednesday but said in a statement, "All I can say at this point is that one of the kids on the bus opened the emergency window and the lady fell out of the bus. This is one of the worst times of my life. I pray for her and her family. "
Zeta Tau Alpha released the following statement:
“It is with very heavy hearts that Zeta Tau Alpha mourns the loss of Polly Miranda Rogers, a member of Eta Tau Chapter at The University of North Carolina Charlotte, who died Tuesday, May 1.
"Polly, 20, was a sophomore majoring in Special Education. She joined ZTA in fall 2016 and was already an emerging leader in her chapter, serving as a New Member assistant, the signs chair and on the recruitment committee.
“Polly was the friendliest person you would ever meet in your life. She could always be found in the common areas of the house greeting sisters after their day at classes and making sure their day was going great,” said chapter president Alexis Marie Burns. “Her involvement within so many chapter committees showed the love she had for our sisterhood and fraternity.
"All of ZTA sends its sincere condolences to Polly’s family during this most difficult time. Chapters and individuals who wish to offer condolences to Eta Tau Chapter may send them to:
"Eta Tau Chapter will hold a remembrance service for Polly on Sunday, May 6 at 5 p.m. on UNC Charlotte's campus."
Cox Media Group