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Kirby guilty in death of TapouT founder

Resident who had prior DUI conviction faces up to 13 years in prison for 2009 incident in Newport Beach.

December 08, 2010|By Joseph Serna, joseph.serna@latimes.com
  • Jeffrey David Kirby
Jeffrey David Kirby (HAND IN, Daily Pilot )

SANTA ANA — A Costa Mesa man was convicted of manslaughter Wednesday in a drunk-driving crash that killed mixed martial arts clothing icon Charles "Mask" Lewis.

A Central Justice Center jury found Jeffrey David Kirby, 53, responsible for the March 11, 2009, wreck in Newport Beach.

That night Kirby was driving his 1977 Porsche with a blood-alcohol level above .13 when he lost control on southbound Jamboree Road, north of Eastbluff Drive.

Driving alongside him was TapouT clothing brand founder Lewis, 45, in a 2004 Ferrari with his girlfriend, Lacy White, riding in the passenger seat.

When Kirby's Porsche spun out of control, it hit the Ferrari, sending Lewis' sports car into a concrete light pole, splitting the car in half and killing Lewis, who lived in Huntington Beach.

White was thrown from the car and suffered broken bones but has since recovered.

Kirby was accused of fleeing the scene after the crash, but the jury found that not to be true.

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Kirby's attorney, Mark Fredrick, argued that Kirby and his passenger didn't know what had happened to Lewis' Ferrari before they drove off.

Kirby and his date were found by police down the street and arrested.

Fredrick was not immediately available for comment late Wednesday.

Lewis' older sister Kaya couldn't get over the fact that Kirby had a previous DUI conviction and was still allowed to drive.

The hole her brother's death left was painstakingly clear outside the courtroom Wednesday. She said she thought she was supposed to feel happy with the conviction, but couldn't summon anything that felt remotely close.

"Obviously, I wanted all the charges to be guilty," she said, referring to the jury finding that Kirby didn't flee the scene. "My brother was all I had left. He has two kids, I have two kids. We could've had a big family."

Kaya Lewis said the case has given her a new mission: to toughen state laws against repeated drunk drivers. She said she'd worked for the Department of Motor Vehicles for 20 years and saw DUI offenders time and again get permission to drive.

"People don't get it," she said. "These people are using a vehicle like a weapon when they drink."

When she wasn't discussing the risks of drinking and driving, her eyes would well up as her thoughts turned to her brother, seven years her junior, who she called by his famous nickname, "Mask."

"My baby brother was supposed to outlive me," she said.

Smoking a cigarette on the courthouse patio as the sun set, she started to cry and remembered how Mask told her that one day he'd being doing something where his day started when the sun goes down.

Because of his successful business, that's how it ended up working for him, she noted.

"I can never watch the sunset anymore," she said, her voice choking with emotion. "It makes me think of him."

Kirby faces up to 13 years in prison at his sentencing Feb. 4.

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