Gary mayor warns parents about college tour operator

GARY, Ind. (WLS) -- For more than three decades, the Gary, Indiana-based Black College Tour Experience has taken high school students on a week-long visit of historically-black colleges. But for Lisa Howard's daughter Morgan, it was a trip from hell.

"I am just in utter disbelief that this company is still in business and still functioning as though nothing happened to my daughter," said Howard.

She said Morgan's tour last April visited only six of the 15 schools promised.

"The bus broke down about four times. They were calling hotels on the way to the various campuses to secure lodging for these kids. That should have been pre-arranged." said Howard.

She said Morgan and the other 80 students on the tour were not given food for eight-hour stretches. On the final night, Howard said Morgan was hungry and went looking for dinner and was struck by a pickup truck while crossing a highway. Morgan survived but suffered a fractured skull, a broken leg, and internal injuries.

"Last year's tour, it went well," said James Piggee, Jr., who operates The Black College Tour Experience.

Piggee denies many of the problems Howard alleges. He told ABC 7 the bus only broke down once, and it happened across the street from a hotel where the students were staying. He said students were given three meals a day and that hotels for the trip were booked weeks in advance.

As for the accident, Piggee said, "Morgan Howard and her roommates chose to go across the street when they were told not to. When they were walking out of the hotel, we told them not to go."

Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson said the tour operated for decades with few complaints, but that changed two years ago.

"In 2016, the city had to bail the tour out, meaning that we had to pay for the hotel rooms," said the mayor. "In 2017, another group, the GAPS group bailed them out."

When asked if the tour should continue to operate, Freeman-Wilson said, "If I had my druthers, the answer would be no."

But Piggee said the tour, which began operating under a different name in 1986, has helped thousands of high school students find their desired college. He's currently taking reservations for another week-long tour that is scheduled for April 1.

"It's a great tour, and the kids get a lot from it, and they need it, and we've worked hard to keep it alive for 32 years," said Piggee. "We've had a few experiences that weren't planned for, but anytime you deal with children, things happen."
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