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TapouT tries to go on after the death of founder Charles 'Mask' Lewis

In a dozen years Charles "Mask" Lewis built TapouT from an outfit that sold T-shirts from car trunks to a $50-million company that became the official apparel choice of the Ultimate Fighting Championship, and his relentlessly positive outlook defined the Inland Empire company's rise, say his former partners.

Lewis, 45, was killed last Thursday when his Ferrari collided with a Porsche on Jamboree Boulevard in Newport Beach. The Porsche driver, Jeffrey David Kirby, 51, of Costa Mesa, was arrested on suspicion of felony drunk driving and driving under the influence.

TapouT President Marc Kreiner and fellow executives Dan Caldwell and Timothy Katz announced today that a public ceremony to celebrate Lewis' life will be conducted April 14 at Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove beginning at 11 a.m. A large crowd is expected, with numerous mixed martial arts fighters and UFC executives.

"It's been a tough time over here," Kreiner said from the 150-employee TapouT headquarters in Grand Terrace. "This company has always been about Charles' dream, and making it come true. A lot remains that he had planned out -- it was part of his dream -- and we're going to make it happen."

Lewis was a former San Bernardino County Sheriff's deputy who left that job to pursue a career capitalizing on the rising interest in mixed martial arts, a sport that has since reached mainstream status by packing arenas and drawing tens of millions of pay-per-view customers annually.

TapouT expanded from the early sponsorship of fighters such as former light-heavyweight champion Chuck "Iceman" Liddell to becoming the exclusive apparel of the UFC's popular "The Ultimate Fighter" reality competition. And TapouT launched its own reality series on the cable network Versus. Years earlier, both Lewis and Caldwell were working in law enforcement in San Bernardino County but were intrigued by the pursuit of the MMA business. Lewis quit being a deputy first, telling Caldwell "he couldn't do both things at the same time." Caldwell then joined him.

"We were friends way before it got this big," Caldwell said. "For 20 years, we spent every day together. I'm going to really miss the passion he had for this company." Katz said Lewis lived the sayings he'd post in the TapouT offices: "Simply believe" and "Quit does not exist."

The horrific crash that ended Lewis' life has brought more than 50,000 e-mails to TapouT offices, Kreiner said, but it also caused some to speculate Lewis was racing or driving drunk.

Caldwell and Kreiner insist Lewis didn't drink alcohol or use drugs. Lewis' girlfriend, Lacy Lynn White, was released from the hospital Tuesday, Caldwell said. "She's saddened, she loved Charles very much," he said.

lance.pugmire@latimes.com

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