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Celebrity Not a Factor in Toby Keith $2.8 M Award

Posted by Jane Akre
Thursday, December 27, 2007 8:16 PM EST
Category: On The Road, Major Medical, Protecting Your Family
Tags: Wrongful Death, Auto Accidents, Automobiles and Other Vehicles, School Buses and Commercial Lines


Toby Keiths Family wins $2.8 million in the negligent death of his father in an auto accident in 2001. The lawyers say celebrity was not a factor.


It is the largest verdict ever in tiny McClain County, Oklahoma with a population just over 37,000.  

On Friday, December 21st a unanimous jury awarded country music star Toby Keith (Covel) and his family $2.8 million for the wrongful death of his father H.K. Covel in a traffic accident March 24, 2001.  

The Covel family, Toby Keith’s mother, Carolyn Covel and two siblings had sued Elias and Pedro Rodriguez, a father and son for negligence in failing to maintain a bus that lead to the death of H.K.  

Rodriguez Transportes of Tulsa and the Republic Western Insurance Company, an Arizona corporation were found responsible for the death.

Toby Keith’s father, 67-year-old  Hubert “H.K.” Covel Jr. was driving his Ford pickup truck near Goldsby, Okla. north on the inside lane of I-35 and was bumped by another car driven by Jeanne Sparlin.  That sent Covel across the median where he was struck by a southbound charter bus owned by Rodriguez Transportes.  

The head-on collision caused massive internal and head injuries to Covel who died at the scene.  Among the 21 passengers in the Rodriguez bus, none was seriously hurt.   

Sparlin left the scene of the fatal accident and never came forward.

Police were tipped to her involvement six months after the accident and she pled guilty to leaving the scene of an accident. The discovery of Sparlin’s involvement led to the hiring of an accident reconstructionist who determined that the failure of the brakes and an unqualified driver of the bus caused the accident.

The jury agreed, finding that H.K. was not at fault at all.

The driver of the bus, David Perez was not trained to drive a commercial bus and did not have a commercial license.

The most convincing evidence for the jury was the result of a November 2000 inspection of the charter bus by a servicing facility in Tulsa.  Rodriguez Transportes was told that the bus “urgently” needed brakes. 

The defendants in the case asserted that the accident was unavoidable.   

During the trial, Toby Keith, his mother Carolyn Covel, sister Tonni Covel and brother Tracey Covel, told jurors about the loss of their father and husband. Toby Keith was in the courtroom every day. 

How many members of the 8 men and four women jury ranging in age from the twenties to the sixties were impressed with Toby Keith’s celebrity?  Ask lawyers Joe Goerke and Russell Mulinix, who represented the family, and they say that didn’t play a role. 

“I didn’t have that impression” attorney Russell Mulinix of Mulinix, Ogden, Hall, Andrews & Ludlam, P.L.L.C told IB News.  He also reminded the jury to remember that Keith was there as a son and not a performer. 

“I think we were very fortunate. McClain is not a big, big county. You never know what you’re going to end up with but we ended up with a very good jury. They were a hard working, educated jury” family attorney Joe Goerke told IB News.

“One of the jurors came up to Toby’s mother and told her this (verdict) had nothing to do with Toby, this had to do with what was right or wrong”  says Mulinix. 

Toby Keith was raised in Moore, Oklahoma, 10 miles south of Oklahoma City. He skipped college to work alongside his father in the oil fields until the oil market collapsed. He then turned to playing semi-pro football while starting the Easy Money Band.

His first CD “Toby Keith” hit No. 1 with the country single “Should’ve Been a Cowboy.” 

His 2006 his CD, “White Trash with Money” was named in part for a comment his 21-year old daughter received from a critic. Toby Keith reportedly made more than $45 million last year alone.

The patriotism of his father and the September 11th attacks prompted Keith to write Courtesy of the Red, White & Blue (The Angry American). The lead single Unleashed(2002) became number one over the July 4 weekend. 

Recently he’s been criticized for being a paid pitchman for ATT and DreamWorks (owned by Disney) and for being among country singers who dismissed the Dixie Chicks lead singer Natalie Maines when she spoke disparagingly about President George W. Bush.  The feud became very public and of the divisiveness, Keith was quoted as saying that in general “Politics is what’s killing America.”

With interest on the pre-judgment money, the amount awarded will exceed $3.8 million. There is no indication whether Rodriguez Transportes or Republic Western Insurance Company of Arizona will appeal.

Many of Toby Keith’s fans are wondering if he will give the money to charity. 

The Family Statement is below.

December 21, 2007

Contact: Shock Ink 818-385-1051
Elaine Schock or Meredith Louie


Family Grateful That Jury Confirmed H.K. Covel Bore No Responsibility
For The Bus/Car Accident

The family and estate of H.K. Covel won a 2.8 million dollar award against Elias Rodriguez and Pedro Rodriguez -- doing business as, Rodriguez Transportes of Tulsa and the Republic Western Insurance Company, an Arizona Corporation -- for wrongful death and negligence causing the death of Mr. Covel, who was killed in a car accident in March 2001. Mr. Covel was the father of singer-songwriter Toby Keith.

H.K. was driving a Ford truck that was traveling northbound on I-35 near Goldsby, OK when he was bumped by another vehicle, sending H.K.'s truck across the median, where it was struck by a southbound tour (charter) bus. The Rodriguezes were in a 1996 Dina Viag charter-type bus loaded with 21 passengers at the time of the accident. They had purchased the bus in October of 2000. In the following month,  November 2000, a bus servicing facility in Tulsa inspected the bus and found it was "urgently" in need of brake work. An expert witness testified that H.K. Covel would have lived if the bus has been equipped with proper brakes and the driver had been properly trained to drive the bus.  The evidence in the case revealed the bus driver, David Perez, was not trained to drive a commercial bus and did not have a commercial driver's license. The jury concluded the accident was clearly avoidable.

Initially it was speculated that Mr. Covel may have suffered a medical condition,  thereby causing the accident because at that time,  no one knew that a car had bumped his truck onto the other side of I-35. Six months after the accident,  Jeanne Sparlin, who was the driver of that vehicle, was charged with leaving the scene of a fatality accident. She later pled guilty to the charge. This collection of facts led the Covel family to hire an investigator to determine how the accident occurred and what caused Mr. Covel's death.

The unanimous jury verdict in the case answered these questions for the family, clearly establishing that H.K. was not, in any respect, at fault in the accident. In addition, the jury found by clear and convincing evidence that Elias Rodriguez and Pedro Rodriguez doing business as Rodriguez Transportes acted in reckless disregard for the rights of H.K. Covel.

"We were only there to find the truth and the jury saw it so plainly that they awarded us a unanimous decision," Toby Keith said.

The plaintiffs in the case were H.K.'s wife, Carolyn Covel, his daughter, Tonni Covel and sons Toby Keith Covel and Tracey Covel. The attorneys for plaintiffs were Russell L. Mulinix, Joe Goerke and Armando Rosell of the Oklahoma City Law firm Mulinix Ogden Hall Andrews & Ludlam, P.L.L.C. And Greg Dixon of Purcell, Oklahoma.

The jury's verdict represents the largest single jury verdict ever rendered in McClain County, Oklahoma.  The Honorable Judge Candace Blalock presided over the trial.

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