WEST HOLLYWOOD, Calif. >> Marion “Suge” Knight, the former music mogul who created one of hip-hop’s leading labels and became the impresario of gangster rap, was arrested early Friday on suspicion of hitting and killing a man with his truck and then fleeing the crash near Los Angeles.
Knight’s attorney said the founder of Death Row Records accidentally ran over and killed a friend and injured another man Thursday as he tried to escape attackers. Witnesses and authorities say an argument between the men escalated into Knight ramming the pair. Authorities said he could face a murder charge.
The 49-year-old Knight, who has a long history of violent crimes, started the label that helped put West Coast rap on the map with the legendary group N.W.A., whose members included Dr. Dre, Ice Cube and Eazy E. The label also launched the career of Snoop Dogg and had Tupac Shakur in the last months of his life.
Many of the records Knight released helped immortalize Compton, the LA-area city where the crash occurred, in hip-hop folklore as a gritty and violent urban environment, although crime there has dipped significantly there since its 1990s peak.
He was arrested around 3 a.m. PST after turning himself in to authorities. He was being held on $2 million bail, said Deputy Trina Schrader of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.
A red pickup truck drove into the parking lot of a fast-food restaurant Thursday afternoon in Compton, and its driver started arguing with two people there, sheriff’s officials said. The argument escalated, and the pickup struck the men around 3 p.m. and then took off, authorities said.
“Looks like he drove backwards and struck the victims and drove forwards and struck them again,” sheriff’s Lt. John Corina said. “The people we talked to say it looked like it was an intentional act.”
A 55-year-old man died at a hospital, and a 51-year-old man was injured, but authorities did not immediately know his condition.
Witnesses also spoke of an argument.
“To see the argument happen, it’s one thing,” said 17-year-old Robert Smith, who was eating in the restaurant. “Seeing the car incident, that was shocking.”
Knight’s attorney, James Blatt, said the crash was an accident.
“He was in the process of being physically assaulted by two men, and in an effort to escape, he unfortunately hit two (other) individuals,” the lawyer said. “He was in his car trying to escape.”
The empty truck was found late Thursday in a West Los Angeles parking lot, Corina said. Knight was seen driving a red pickup truck 20 minutes earlier in a different part of town where a music video was being filmed, the lieutenant said.
Blatt said Knight’s legal team was “confident that once the investigation is completed, he will be totally exonerated.”
Knight founded Death Row Records in the 1990s but later declared bankruptcy, and the company was auctioned off.
His lengthy history of run-ins with the law goes back to the early 1990s and includes assaults and weapons offenses.
In November, he pleaded not guilty to a robbery charge filed over an incident in which a celebrity photographer accused him of stealing her camera in Beverly Hills. Because of prior convictions, he could face up to 30 years in prison.
He has felony convictions for armed robbery and assault with a gun. He pleaded no contest in 1995 to assaulting two rap entertainers at a Hollywood recording studio and was sentenced to five years of probation.
He also served timed for probation violations.
Last August, Knight was shot six times at a Los Angeles nightclub. No arrests have been made.
Associated Press writers Christopher Weber and Robert Jablon contributed to this report from Los Angeles.