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Founder is mourned

Light pole that TapouT founder hit is obscured by a memorial of shirts, candles, notes as fans and friends say goodbye.

March 12, 2009|By Joseph Serna

The skid marks on southbound Jamboree Road start on the far left and shoot up and across three lanes to the sidewalk. Along the way they divide, likely from the cars police say were involved in Wednesday morning’s crash that killed loved mixed-martial-arts clothing brand entrepreneur Charles “Mask” Lewis.

As you climb up the hill on Jamboree Road south of Eastbluff Drive in Newport Beach, the skids retrace the chaos one police officer said he witnessed that night, and lead straight to what has become a memorial to Lewis, founder of TapouT clothing.

Now those marks, leading to the crash site, act as a beacon for fans of mixed martial arts and TapouT, along with those whose lives Lewis touched. Thursday morning, the marks led Joey Gsoell to the spot, now covered in more than 50 candles, TapouT shirts and posters, and well-wishes from friends and anonymous TapouT followers.

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“I came just to say goodbye,” said a somber Gsoell, staring at the scene from his motorcycle, parked curbside.

The light pole Lewis’ 2004 red Ferrari 360 Modena slammed into about 1 a.m. Wednesday is gone, covered with a caution sign and stuffed animal and card.

The impact sheared his car in two, killing him and hurtling the woman with him from the car. She was taken to the hospital with non-life threatening injuries.

Jeffrey Kirby, 51, of Costa Mesa — the driver of the 1977 Porsche 911 Targa police said was involved in the collision — was arrested on suspicion of vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated.

Gsoell said he knew Lewis before his rise to success, when they went to church together and worked together. He said he’ll never forget Lewis’ big, booming laugh. Gsoell said his old friend’s success didn’t come as a surprise.

“He was motivated,” Gsoell said. “He really believed if you put 100% of yourself into something and surround yourself with other people willing to do the same thing, you can succeed.”

Lewis’ drive turned the little-known TapouT brand into a $100-million business, and along the way changed lives.

“This shirt represents my dream that you helped me make come true! Thank you so much, you will be missed!” one person wrote.

Police have not determined the cause of the collision, which flung the front half of Lewis’ car 30 feet uphill. Excessive speed and alcohol appear to be factors, Lt. Craig Fox said.

It would be premature to say Lewis and Kirby were racing, Fox said, and the officer who witnessed the collision only saw the cars already out of control.

Kirby was arrested a block away on Bison Avenue after police said he abandoned the car, which had moderate damage from the collision.

Court records show that Kirby has several tickets for minor infractions and a DUI conviction in 2002. He is being held in Orange County Jail in lieu of $2 million bail and will likely be arraigned today at the Harbor Justice Center in Newport Beach.


Reporter JOSEPH SERNA may be reached at (714) 966-4619 or at joseph.serna@latimes.com.

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