RUTHERFORD COUNTY, North Carolina — A Florida murder suspect, who was arrested Thursday while driving the vehicle of a missing Lyft driver from Palm Beach Gardens, is being held on a $2 million bond in North Carolina.
Matthew Scott Flores, 35, appeared before a judge in Rutherford County, North Carolina, Friday after he was apprehended following a three-county chase Thursday.
Flores faces multiple charges including second-degree murder, possession of a firearm by a felon and discharging a firearm in public. He is also accused of eluding law enforcement, speeding and intoxicated driving.
Judge Michelle McEntire also said he is being held on a Florida fugitive warrant.
Flores is scheduled to have another hearing Feb. 22.
Lyft driver Gary Levin hasn't been heard from since Monday when his family says he picked up a customer in Delray Beach. His red 2022 Kia Stinger was spotted in Miami that day, and then in a rural area north of Lake Okeechobee and later in north Florida, officials said.
The vehicle was seen Thursday evening in North Carolina after the U.S. Marshal's regional task force asked authorities to be on the lookout. Flores was arrested following a police chase through three counties, Rutherford County, North Carolina Sheriff Aaron Ellenburg.
Ellenburg said North Carolina state troopers used stop sticks to halt the vehicle in Ellenboro. The sheriff said Flores fled briefly on foot before he was apprehended and taken to a hospital for an evaluation. He was later booked into the county jail, and the vehicle was taken to a secure location, the sheriff said.
Flores is a suspect in a slaying on Jan. 24 — nearly a week before Levin disappeared on Monday.
Authorities are investigating how Flores obtained the missing Lyft driver's car — Levin's family said they do not know whether Flores was the passenger Levin picked up in Delray Beach on Monday. John Eason, the police chief in Wauchula, Florida, in Hardee County told The AP in a phone interview that officers are heading to North Carolina in hopes of interviewing Flores about the Jan. 24 killing and the missing Lyft driver.
"Our biggest concern at this point is finding and identifying where Mr. Levin is at," Eason said. "A lot of that depends on whether the suspect cooperates with us."
Flores is facing a second-degree murder charge and other counts stemming from the fatal shooting last month of Jose Carlos Martinez in Wauchula. A woman who Eason said assisted Flores in fleeing from police, Stephanie Velgara, will be charged with being an accessory after the fact in the Martinez killing.
It wasn't immediately clear if Velgara has a lawyer to speak on her behalf. Eason said she remained in custody Friday in Florida's Hardee County jail.
Wauchula is about 70 miles southeast of Tampa and about 127 miles northwest of Levin’s home in Palm Beach Gardens.
Levin's daughter, Lindsay DiBetta, told the AP the family has learned that Levin took an unknown customer to Okeechobee, a small city on the edge of Lake Okeechobee, and completed the ride sometime after 4 p.m. on Monday.
She said the family was told by Lyft that the ride was completed sometime after 4 p.m. He also spoke to friends by phone around 4 p.m. that day and “all seemed well,” Dibetta said.
But almost immediately, something went wrong, she said. His phone was turned off and no one has heard from him since then.
DiBetta said the Lyft gig was great for Levin, who loves telling dad jokes and often tells them over and over. "It was the perfect setup for him. He would get a new audience every ride," she said.
She said her father was an auto body salesman before retiring to Florida, and that his car "was his baby."
"What happened to my dad? Did (Flores) harm my dad?" DiBetta said. "We just don't know."
A Lyft spokesperson released the following statement Friday regarding the investigation:
"Our thoughts are with Mr. Levin's family and loved ones during this deeply concerning time. We've been in touch with his family to offer our support, as well as with law enforcement to assist with their investigation."
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement has established a tip line at 239-278-7170 in the case or you can contact the Palm Beach Gardens Police at 561-799-4445.