Tapout founder "Mask" killed in early morning auto accident
by Dann Stupp on Mar 11, 2009 at 3:15 pm ET
"Mask," one of the popular real-life characters from MMA apparel giant Tapout, died early this morning in a automobile accident in California.
Mask, who's real name is Charles Lewis Jr., died when his red Ferrari Modena crashed into a utility pole in Newport Beach at approximately 1 a.m. local time.
The driver of a second car, an older-model white Porsche that is believed to have been traveling at a high rate of speed next to Lewis' car, has been arrested on gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, a Newport Beach Police Department representative told MMAjunkie.com (www.mmajunkie.com
Lt. Craig Fox of the Newport Beach Police Department could not confirm the identity of the deceased male until the Orange County Sheriff's Department notifies next of kin. However, sources close to Lewis told MMAjunkie.com he was the one who died in the accident.
Lt. Fox said it's not known if either the male occupant (Lewis) or a female companion was driving the Ferrari. After the Ferrari hit a curb and smashed into the pole, the female was ejected from the car and was transferred to the Western Medical Center in Santa Ana, where she remains in stable condition, according to Lt. Fox.
Lewis was pronounced dead at the scene.
According to Fox, a Newport Beach Police officer was on patrol in the area and witnessed both the Ferrari and the Porsche "spinning out of control on Jamboree Road between Bison Avenue and East Bluff Drive."
"It was damaged very badly," Fox said of the Ferrari, which nearly split into two pieces. "The male was pronounced dead at the scene."
The Porsche initially fled the scene, but police soon located the damaged car a few blocks from where the Ferrari crashed.
"The damage appeared related to the accident (on Jamboree Road)," Fox said.
Leaving the Porsche were 51-year-old Jeffrey David Kirby of Costa Mesa and 32-year-old Lynn Marie Nabozny of Newport Beach, who were both detained.
"Through their investigation, [police officers] were able to determine the male was the driver of the Porsche," Lt. Fox said. "He was arrested for gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated. He was booked ... on a $1 million bail."
Nabozny was arrested for public intoxication and later released.
"There were skid marks found at the scene," said Lt. Fox, who confirmed investigators were still sifting through the crash scene as of noon PST today. "It appears there were maybe high rates of speed involved, but they don't know what led up to the collision. The officer (who witnessed the crash) didn't see that. He barely saw the after effects of what appears to be the possible collision."
Messages left with Tapout executives were not immediately returned.
Lewis will be remembered as one of MMA's first and true entrepreneurs.
Lewis founded Tapout Clothing Inc. in 1997 with a trunk full of T-shirts and a few thousand dollars of start-up money. Over the past decade, he and his partners have made the company the biggest apparel success story in MMA.
Tapout, which grossed just $30,000 in sales in 1999, pushed that number to more than $100 million in 2008 alone. The company now has licensed retailers (including the likes of Dillard's and Champs) around the world.
A longtime comic-book fan, Lewis and his colleagues, "Punkass" and "Skyscrape," went the make-up-and-costume route soon after launching the company from a San Bernardino apartment. The costumes, grassroots-marketing efforts and an often-praised work ethic made the crew celebrities in their own right.
When not hosting their own TV show on Versus to spotlight up-and-coming fighters, the Tapout members could often be found cageside at major MMA events, including the UFC, which the company sponsors.
Stay tuned to MMAjunkie.com for additional updates on this story.