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Toby Keith's family wins suit in father's death

Monday, December 24, 2007 – The family of Toby Keith won a $2.8-million dollar award against a Tulsa, Okla. Company for the wrongful death and negligence of T.K. Covel, Keith's father, in a March 2001 car accident.

Elias Rodriguez and Pedro Rodriguez - doing business as, Rodriguez Transportes of Tulsa and the Republic Western Insurance Company, an Arizona Corporation - were found responsible.

Covel was driving a Ford truck that was traveling near Goldsby, Okla. when he was bumped by another vehicle, sending his 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 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," according to Keith's publicist.

Initially it was speculated that Covel may have suffered a medical condition, thereby causing the accident because no one knew that a car had bumped his truck onto the other side of the 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 Covel's death.

The unanimous jury verdict in the case answered these questions for the family, clearly establishing that Covel was not at fault. In addition, the jury found by clear and convincing evidence that Rodriguez Transportes acted in reckless disregard for the rights of 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 Covel's wife, Carolyn Covel, his daughter, Tonni Covel and sons Toby Keith Covel and Tracey Covel.

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