It's been three years since Chance Daily (born Robert Earl Lavender III) was struck by intoxicated driver Deanna Marie Soto in Fullerton as he rode home on his Harley-Davidson. He died instantly; securing Soto's conviction took nearly two years. The mainstream media labeled him as a Mongols biker and "Carson motorcyclist," but no reporter recognized Daily's fame as graffiti legend Batle 663.
"He was known for literally having stickers and scribes all through OC," graffiti artist TROLE DTA says. "I couldn't go to a bathroom without seeing him in there, and of course, painting was no different. . . . Trains, walls, yards, tunnels, bathrooms, bridges, rooftops: [He was] a very versatile writer, and it paid off."
The Long Beach-born, Carson-raised graffiti artist fell in love with art in second grade. At age 14, he found a passion for graffiti and began tagging under the name NEXT 1. Daily would ride his skateboard through the streets and tag everything in sight, from stop signs and intersections to walls and trains. Not even a month-long sentence in jail for spray-painting a billboard off the 405 freeway stopped him.
"I really am not trying to disappoint you or anything like that." Daily wrote from jail to his mother, Tina Alexander. "I love what I love. It's not my choice to have the passion for the things that I do."
Instead of judging him for his street art, Daily's family backed him 100 percent, with Alexander only asking him to tell her where he planned on painting every day in case anything happened.
When he was 18, he changed his graff name to Batle 663 (the meaning behind Batle remains a mystery), and he began spreading his name in as many places as possible. "If we were going to eat dinner or lunch," Alexander remembers, "we would have to stop at every single fast food restaurant from here to where we were going because he had to hit every bathroom and scribe."
"He scribed everything because everyone and their mom would see it," graffiti artist PONSR1 adds. "Motherfucker would scribe women's bathrooms. . . . It's because people who don't have anything to do with graffiti are like, 'WTF? Who's this jerk carving out mirrors and sinks?'"
While Daily once dreamed of becoming a pro skateboarder, he blew out his ankles and knees during a competition in 2006. That just caused him to focus harder on putting in mad work everywhere from San Pedro to Arizona, etching his name deep into bathroom tile, tagging sidewalks, slapping stickers on light poles, filling fire extinguishers with paint, gliding paint pens over windows and bombing cities every chance he got. He "was an aggressive kid making his name for himself in the jungle of LA," said graffiti artist Whiteninja.
Daily moved to Anaheim with his mom in 2008, and over the next six years, Daily solidified his standing among peers with bombs that showed off a dizzying range of styles: rigid cracked-stone font, backward and upside-down western-style diamond-insert pieces, and twisted blade-sharp lettering. No matter how intricate or wild his artwork got, he made sure you could still read his name; the 663; or the letters LASB (Los Angeles South Bay), Oi! or ACAB (All Cops Are Bastards). "He was a graffiti machine," OHUNO says. "Anyone who stood in his way was demolished, and he knew that."
By 2014, the 29-year-old Daily was engaged, working a promising job in sales and living with his fiancee in Fullerton. The night of June 21, 2014, he was heading home from a barbecue with friends when Soto made a left turn and collided with Daily. News spread fast in Southern California's graffiti scene, and nearly 1,000 people attended his funeral. More than $13,000 was raised for Daily's family. And when the Orange County district attorney's office ordered Fullerton Police Department to investigate the killing further and released Soto a month after Daily's death, Daily's fiancee, Monica Deretich, started the Facebook page "Justice for Chance Daily." She urged the page's more than 1,000 followers to call the police department to express their discontent, and she organized the Sept. 6, 2014, protest at the site of Daily's death. Supporters rejoiced when Soto was re-arrested on May 14, 2015; she ultimately received a 32-month sentence.
In death, Daily's name looms large. "Toys" (newbie taggers) claim to have known him; admirers compare him to the likes of OC legends MELK, SMELS and LENZE. Hundreds of artists have thrown up tributes or posted thousands of "BATLE FOREVER" or "BATLE 663" stickers across the world. People from as far away as Japan, Brazil and Germany continue to contact Alexander to pay their respects.
The media's framing of her son as a member of the Mongols still angers Alexander, who denies Daily was involved with the club and wonders what the hell any alleged membership has to do with her son's death by a drunk driver. "There are no black Mongols," she says. "There's brown and there's white, but you can't be black and be a Mongol . . . and Chance was black. He had friends of all different clubs."
Although she hasn't found peace in Soto's sentencing, Alexander channels her anger at the justice system by posting her son's work on social media and hosting memorials at his gravesite on the anniversary of his death. She is also working on starting the Batle 663 Forever Foundation, with the goals of lowering sentences for graffiti, raising the sentences for DUIs, and donating money to families of DUI victims in need of assistance.
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"I was pissed at God for taking him," Alexander says, "but I have to focus and bring at least some good to his death because I can't bring him back. As much as I would trade my life and lay down everything so that he could live his, it's not going to happen."
Daily's pieces remain visible across Orange County and are zealously guarded by his friends. "No one goes over BATLE pieces," OHUNO says. "As long as I'm alive, that will not happen. . . . I think his legend is really strong right now. It will be a long time before anyone forgets his name."