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Who killed Gary Levin? 'Person of interest' in Lyft driver's death faces competency exam

The Palm Beach Post 2/27/2023 Julius Whigham II, Palm Beach Post

A North Carolina judge has ordered a man identified as a person of interest in the January disappearance and death of South Florida Lyft driver Gary Levin to undergo a mental health evaluation, just hours after a Central Florida grand jury indicted him on a separate murder charge.

Matthew Scott Flores is considered a person of interest in the death of Levin, 74, of Palm Beach Gardens. Investigators found Levin's remains in Okeechobee County this month, near where Levin was last seen and days after his family reported him missing. Flores is in custody near Charlotte, N.C., where law enforcement arrested him as he drove Levin's red Kia Stinger.

On Feb. 21, a grand jury in Hardee County indicted Flores, 35, on a first-degree murder charge stemming from the January fatal shooting of a man in Wauchula, 50 miles southeast of Tampa.

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Neither the Florida Department of Law Enforcement nor the Okeechobee County Sheriff's Office disclosed the identity of the person whose remains were found in that county, but Levin's daughter confirmed his death in a since-deleted social media post.

To date, Okeechobee authorities have not filed charges against Flores. Assistant State Attorney Brian Workman of the 19th Judicial Circuit's major crimes unit in Fort Pierce said the case is still under investigation. Flores remains in the custody of authorities in North Carolina and will at least until a court appearance scheduled for March.

What we know about the case in North Carolina

North Carolina authorities charged Flores with DWI, fleeing and eluding and possession of a stolen vehicle after apprehending him Feb. 2 in Rutherford County, about 70 miles west of Charlotte. He also faces extradition to Florida for the Hardee County homicide.

During a Feb. 22 hearing, a judge ordered that Flores undergo a competency exam at a public defender's request. The court continued the case until March 10, although it could take up to two months for the competency evaluation process to be completed, Rutherford County District Attorney Ted Bell said. Bell said it could take several months before Flores is returned to Florida, as his charges in North Carolina must be resolved first.

If Flores chooses to contest the charges, the next grand jury would convene in March, and the end of May would be the earliest that the case could go to trial, Bell said. However, the competency hearing has effectively put the North Carolina case on pause.

Flores could challenge his extradition to Florida, which would likely then result in the filing of a warrant by law enforcement coordinated through the states' governor's offices.

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What to know about the Wauchula case

Hardee County investigators said Flores was wanted in connection with the fatal shooting of Jose Carlos Martinez in January. Wauchula police arrested Stephanie Velgara, 31, of Winter Springs, alleging that she assisted Flores in fleeing from law enforcement. She faces a charge of being an accessory after the fact.

Flores also faces charges of grand theft of a motor vehicle, tampering with physical evidence and possession of a firearm or ammunition by a convicted felon.

In the days after the Hardee County murder, he was reported to be driving a blue Nissan Altima that had a license tag switched from another vehicle. It remains unclear how Flores came to be driving Levin's Kia in North Carolina.

Family gathered in February to remember Levin's life

Family and friends have described Levin as an outgoing man who loved the music of Smokey Robinson, dancing and meeting new people. They said he moved to South Florida from Philadelphia about two years ago after retiring after a career in sales, and that he had driven for Lyft for about five years.

Those who knew Levin said he picked up a fare in Delray Beach on Jan. 30 and traveled to Okeechobee before he vanished. They reported him missing to Palm Beach Gardens Police on Jan. 31. Highway traffic sensor data placed Levin's Kia in Miami and later in Okeechobee, before tracking it to to Sumter County northwest of Orlando and then to Gainesville in northern Florida.

Gary Levin, 74, of Palm Beach Gardens was reported missing on Jan 31, 2023. Family members said he was driving for the rideshare company Lyft when he went missing. © Photo provided Gary Levin, 74, of Palm Beach Gardens was reported missing on Jan 31, 2023. Family members said he was driving for the rideshare company Lyft when he went missing.

On Feb. 2, law enforcement in North Carolina spotted Levin's vehicle and troopers pursued it through multiple counties before successfully disabling the vehicle and apprehending Flores. Two days later, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement reported that human remains were found in a wooded area of northern Okeechobee County. The remains were positively identified by the medical examiner for Okeechobee County, and his family confirmed that he had died shortly afterward.

A celebration of life service honoring Levin was held Feb. 19 at Temple Judea in Coral Gables.

Julius Whigham II is a criminal justice and public safety reporter for The Palm Beach Post. You can reach him and follow him on Twitter at@JuliusWhigham. Help support our work:Subscribe today. 

This article originally appeared on Palm Beach Post: Who killed Gary Levin? 'Person of interest' in Lyft driver's death faces competency exam

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