Authorities debate whether to charge other driver in death of Charles ‘Mask’ Lewis’

A man honors Charles Lewis at a roadside memorial. Lewis, a figure in the mixed martial arts scene, was killed when his Ferrari hit a light pole in Newport Beach.
(Alex Gallardo / Los Angeles Times)

As fans and friends built memorials and paid tribute to a pioneer in the mixed martial arts scene, police and prosecutors debated Thursday whether to charge a Costa Mesa man with causing the death of Charles “Mask” Lewis.

Lewis, who helped energize the emerging sport of mixed martial arts fighting with an edgy clothing line, was killed early Wednesday when his Ferrari crashed into a light pole in Newport Beach. The impact tore the vehicle in half.

The sports car was traveling alongside a Porsche before the crash, police said. The Porsche’s driver, Jeffrey David Kirby, 51, remained behind bars Thursday in lieu of $2-million bail. He is being held on suspicion of drunk driving and vehicular manslaughter.

But whether those charges stick was a point of debate Thursday as the Newport Beach Police Department and the Orange County district attorney’s office discussed how to proceed.

Kirby was taken into custody Wednesday by Newport Beach police after he left the scene of the 12:57 a.m. accident on Jamboree Road, where the Ferrari crashed into the pole, leaving Lewis, 45, dead. His female passenger was hurled into the street. The woman remains hospitalized, and her name has not been released.

Police say the two cars appeared to have been traveling side by side in the southbound lanes at high speed and may have collided near Upper Newport Bay. Officers stopped short of saying the cars were racing.

Officers found Kirby’s Porsche on a side street a short distance away as he and a female passenger were walking away from the vehicle. Both were arrested, though the woman, identified as Lynn Marie Nabozny, was later released.

Kirby has been cited in Orange County for at least eight traffic violations since 2001, including a conviction for driving under the influence in which he was sentenced to three years’ probation, according to court records.

In the 2001 drunk driving arrest, Kirby allegedly told the arresting officer that his father was a retired California Highway Patrol officer who always advised him to never submit to a sobriety test. He also told the officer that “he shouldn’t be picking on people with money,” according to the police report.

Lewis founded TapouT clothing with Dan “Punkass” Caldwell in 1997, selling T-shirts out of the trunks of their cars at mixed martial arts shows. As the mixed martial arts scene exploded, TapouT became the apparel of choice for many fighters, and was the exclusive apparel on the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s popular reality series on Spike TV, “The Ultimate Fighter.”

Before breaking into the martial arts arena, Lewis was a San Bernardino County sheriff’s deputy who worked at the Central Detention Center in downtown San Bernardino from December 1996 to May 1998.

On Thursday, employees at the TapouT headquarters in San Bernardino left flowers, candles and balloons at the company’s entrance. In Newport Beach, an even more elaborate memorial sprang up near the crash site.