Country-Rapper Mikel Knight Ordered to Pay $20 Million to Families of Teens Killed in Car Crash
The families of two teenagers who were killed while they worked for country rap artist Mikel Knight finally got their day in court. Eight years ago, Taylor Nixon and Robert Underfinger III were killed in Texas. Last Friday in Nashville, Knight was ordered to pay more than $20 million to their families.
Knight — real name Jason Cross — had hired the teens and others like them to be a part of his Maverick Dirt Road Street Team, a traveling group of marketers and promoters that sold his music out of vans at gas stations and Walmart parking lots across America. A lengthy 2016 profile in Gawker recalled a Billboard advertisement that claimed that the group sold more than a million CDs in two years time, although the numbers were impossible to verify since most were sold hand-to-hand.
Saving Country Music has also done significant reporting on Knight since 2015, detailing his long list of criminal charges and recounting some of the brutal working conditions his employees allegedly had to endure. In sharing news of the jury verdict in the civil case, Nashville television news station WZTV (Fox 17) reports that Nixon's family was awarded just $3 million and Underfinger's $2.7 million. An additional $15 million was awarded in punitive damages after the jury found Knight to be grossly negligent in the trading, hiring and retention practices of his company.
The two teens (age 19 and 18) were killed on June 16, 2014 when a van belonging to Knight overcorrected and veered off the road and rolled several times. Neither man wearing a seat belt. Their mothers sued Knight and other entities he owns, but the case was delayed for eight years for a variety of legal reasons and then the COVID-19 pandemic. SCM notes that Knight ultimately represented himself and said he had no money and wouldn't be able to pay.
A second lawsuit against Knight is set to begin on Oct. 31. Ky Rodgers is suing after a van he was riding in fell from a cliff in Utah, resulting in significant injuries to his vertebrae and pelvis, as well as tens of thousands of dollars in medical bills. It was Rodgers who first blew the whistle on Knight's alleged mistreatment of employees in a since-deleted post that went viral and led to investigations and profiles in Saving Country Music, Gawker and more.
Knight would eventually tell Gawker that Rodgers' Facebook post was an attempt to get money from him after the crash. The 46-year-old Knight does not have any recent news or tour dates listed on his website. On Facebook, he's been posting old YouTube videos this month.