- CHARGES FILED IN DEATH OF TAPOUT FOUNDER MASK (UPDATE)
Friday, March 13, 2009 - by MMAWeekly.com Staff
The Orange County District Attorney on Friday morning filed charges against Jeffrey David Kirby in relation to the car accident that killed Charles "Mask" Lewis, the founder of popular mixed martial arts clothing company Tapout.
A statement from the Orange County DA's office stated that Kirby is a second-time drunken driver and accused of killing Lewis and injuring his girlfriend, Lacy Lynn White, when Kirby crashed his Porsche into Lewis' Ferrari, causing it to slam into a light pole. The Ferrari split in half upon impacting the pole.
Kirby, 51, of Costa Mesa, Calif., is charged with one felony count of vehicular manslaughter by unlawful act with gross negligence while intoxicated, one felony count of driving under the influence causing bodily injury, and sentencing enhancements for fleeing the scene of a vehicular manslaughter and causing great bodily injury to multiple victims. He has a prior conviction for driving under the influence in 2002.
Kirby faces a maximum sentence of 19 years and eight months in state prison if convicted. He is currently being held on $2 million bail and is scheduled to be arraigned Friday afternoon in Newport Beach.
Kirby is accused of speeding alongside a 2004 Ferrari driven by the 45-year-old Lewis, of Huntington Beach, losing control of his car due to his unsafe speed, and crashing into Lewis? vehicle.
Lewis then lost control of his Ferrari, which crashed into a cement light pole. The Ferrari was torn in half. Kirby is accused of swerving and coming to a stop for several seconds before accelerating and fleeing the scene.
Lewis was trapped inside the front half of the Ferrari, which had to be dismantled in order to remove him. He was pronounced dead at the scene.
Lewis? 23-year-old passenger, Lacy Lynn White, was ejected from the car and landed on the nearby dirt embankment. She was transported to Western Medical Center to be treated for a fractured elbow and several lacerations and abrasions. She is currently in stable condition, according to the Orange County DA statement.
After fleeing the scene, Kirby allegedly parked his Porsche on a nearby side street. A responding Newport Beach Police officer spotted the car and saw Kirby and a passenger from his car, 32-year-old Lynn Marie Nabozny, walking away. Both were then apprehended.
Kirby is accused of emitting an odor of alcohol, slurring his speech, and having bloodshot and watery eyes. He was arrested at the scene. At approximately 3:00 a.m., two hours after the crash, Kirby is accused of having a blood alcohol level of 0.13 percent. Nabozny was arrested for public intoxication and later released.
As stated, Charles "Mask" Lewis was one of the founders of Tapout. The company began as an effort of a small group of friends that had a passion for mixed martial arts and its fighters. From its humble beginnings, selling t-shirts out of the back of a car, Tapout has grown alongside the sport itself. Registering $29,000 in sales in 1999, according to The Press-Enterprise, Tapout's sales reportedly rose to $25 million by 2007 and were projected to be more than $100 million in 2008.
Mask ? along with cohorts Dan "Punkass" Caldwell and Skyscrape ? was an extremely popular figure in the mixed martial arts world, a site rarely missed at most major MMA events.
UFC president Dana White told Neil Davidson of the Canadian Press, "You couldn't meet a nicer guy, a more friendly, outgoing guy, a more loyal guy (than Mask). He really was a good person. He's one of the pioneers, one of the legends of this sport.
"This guy was selling T-shirts out of the trunk of his car and when we first got involved with the UFC, we met them. We really liked them. We liked their energy. They were good people and we got together and we started doing all this grassroots marketing together ? the UFC and Tapout. They were very loyal to us and we were very loyal to them.
"And it sucks to see a guy who has worked so hard his whole life, to finally make it and break through, and then have something like this happen to him."
In his online blog, Tapout's Punkass said goodbye. "To my best friend in the world, you'll be forever missed, but always remembered."
(UPDATE 5:30 p.m. PT) Kirby's arraignment was later changed to March 27 and his bail reduced to $500,000. His bail includes the conditions that he is not allowed to consume alcohol or operate an automobile. As of the time of publication, Kirby remained in custody.