Update: ‘Tapout’ Owner Dead in Car Crash

By Loretta Hunt Mar 12, 2009
Charles “Mask” Lewis, one of the founding members of the ultra-popular Tapout clothing brand, died in a car crash around 1 a.m. on Wednesday in Newport Beach, Calif., according to Orange County Coroner’s Office spokesman Jim Amormino.

Lewis, a star of the Versus reality TV show “Tapout,” was 45 years old.

Lewis was pronounced dead at the scene of an accident that involved his red Ferrari and a white Porsche, said Lt. Fox, of the Newport Beach Police Department. Toxicology tests on Lewis will not be available for a few weeks, said Amormino. Lewis' death will most likely be attributed to blunt force trauma and massive internal injuries, added Amormino.

A female, who was identified as Lewis’ girlfriend by friends, was ejected from the car and rushed to Western Medical Center. An investigating official told Sherdog.com on Thursday that she is in critical but stable condition and is expected to survive. Her identity has not been made public to protect her privacy.

Authorities have not been able to determine who was driving the Ferrari due to the excessive damage incurred.

The accident was not depicted as a race between cars, although the two vehicles were traveling alongside one another in the same direction on the three-lane Jamboree Road.

“The end of the accident was witnessed by one of our on-duty officers,” said Lt. Fox. “What the officer saw -- he was driving in the opposite direction –- he saw two vehicles out of control, spinning around. One, a red Ferrari hit the curb, struck a pole and broke in half.”

Lt. Fox said the officer observed a white Porsche stop at the scene and then take off a few seconds later southbound on Jamboree Road.

Skid marks were recorded at the scene, said Lt. Fox, denoting high speeds may have been involved.

A second police unit retrieved the Porsche, which also had moderate body damage, a short distance away from the accident on a side street. A man identified as Jeffery D. Kirby and a woman were observed walking away from the vehicle.

“Through an investigation of the officers, it was determined that the male was the driver of the Porsche,” said Lt. Fox.

Kirby, 51, of Costa Mesa, Calif., was arrested for gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, and the unidentified female was charged with public intoxication. The Orange County Register reported Wednesday that Kirby has had previous driving violations, including a 2002 conviction for driving under the influence. His bail was set at $1 million, though reports have since suggested that it is now $2 million.

Kirby will be arraigned Friday in court, according to the Orange County District Attorney's Office.

The well-liked Lewis left an indelible mark in mixed martial arts. As one of three founding members of the “Tapout Crew,” Lewis and his partners debuted their logo in November 1997 and built a multimillion-dollar clothing business virtually from scratch, selling T-shirts out of their cars at grassroots events into the early 2000s. Lewis and his partners were noted for their dedication to the sport’s advancement, as well as their generosity as sponsors to countless MMA fighters.

Lewis also trained with many of the sport’s athletes and was anonymously featured with former UFC light heavyweight champion Tito Ortiz on the cover of the UFC video game “Throwdown.”

Lewis’ alter ego, the heavily tattooed, face-painted “Mask,” was a fan favorite at events alongside his cohorts “Skyscrape” and “Punkass,” and were known for their outrageous costumes and outgoing behavior. The “Tapout” name quickly became synonymous with the sport, especially with the support it received from the UFC and numerous champion fighters.

The jet-setting trio became the subject of the “Tapout” reality TV series on Versus debuting in June 2007, where the crew toured the nation to scout out promising up-and-comers to don their brand. The series ended its second season in September 2008.

Friends have said that Lewis is survived by a brother.

Editor's Note: This article was updated Wednesday at 9:51 p.m. EST to add details of Lewis' death and Thursday at 1:31 p.m. EST with information on the condition of Lewis’ girlfriend and Kirby’s arraignment.
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