Trial starts Monday in Charles 'Mask' Lewis' death

His funeral at Crystal Cathedral drew thousands of friends and fans. People talked about how his ambition forced him to risk it all, leaving his job as a sheriff's deputy to sell TapouT shirts out of the back of his car. No one had even heard of his brand back then. Now it's a $50-million company.

When Huntington Beach resident Charles "Mask" Lewis was killed in a Newport Beach car crash in March 2009, fans of mixed martial arts, the Ultimate Fighting Championship league and TapouT were devastated.

The skid marks swerving right on southbound Jamboree Road north of Bison Avenue showed where Lewis' Ferrari headed: straight into a concrete light pole. The collision split the car in half, killing Lewis and throwing a female passenger onto a dirt embankment, breaking her elbow. In the months that followed, TapouT posters, clothing and candles remained at the crash site.

Now, 20 months since that late-night crash, the man prosecutors said was drunk behind the wheel of his own sports car and hit Lewis' Ferrari, causing the crash, is headed for trial Monday at the Central Justice Center in Santa Ana.

Jeffrey David Kirby, 53, of Costa Mesa, is charged with vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence and driving under the influence and causing great bodily injury with sentencing enhancements for allegedly fleeing the scene and injuring multiple people.

Kirby faces up to 19 years and eight months in prison if convicted on all counts.

Prosecutors contend Kirby was speeding southbound on Jamboree in his 1977 Porsche about 1 a.m. March 11, 2009, next to Lewis, 45. Kirby lost control of his car and swerved into Lewis' Ferrari, sending him into the light pole.

When police checked Kirby's blood-alcohol level two hours after the crash, it measured .13, above the .08 legal limit, prosecutors said.

Authorities allege that after Kirby hit the car, he briefly stopped, then sped away and parked down the road and tried to walk away.

A Newport Beach police officer heading north on Jamboree saw the crash and Kirby's subsequent actions. Police responding to the crash found Kirby and his female passenger not far from his vehicle.

Kirby also has a 2002 DUI conviction.

Kirby's defense attorney, Mark Fredrick, said his client was not speeding that night, nor was he driving next to Lewis.

He said that Lewis' Ferrari was stopped at a red light at the bottom of the hill at Eastbluff Drive when Kirby drove past, going up the hill.

He said Lewis came speeding up from behind, frighteningly fast to the point that Kirby tried to swerve out of the way, when he saw the Ferrari in his rearview mirror because he thought it hit him.

That's when Lewis went to weave around Kirby on the right, but got clipped by the Porsche, which didn't have time to react, Fredrick said.

A toxicology report showed Lewis had no drugs or alcohol in his body at the time of the crash.

"It's a tragic case. Lewis by all accounts was a really good guy," Fredrick said.

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