News Cast 2/22

News Cast for February 22nd:

Lyft driver case in court today

A court appearance scheduled today for Matthew Flores in North Carolina.

He stands accused of a high speed chase in that state, found driving the vehicle of a dead man, allegedly.

The Florida man is also wanted in Hardee County for a 2nd degree murder charge.

His girlfriend Stephanie Velgara also charged with helping to escape Florida according to Wauchula Police.

In Okeechobee Flores is a suspect in the disappearance of 74- year-old Gary Levin, a Lyft driver, missing since January 30th.

His family said Levin passed away.  Human remains were located in Okeechobee on NE 40th Avenue but the identity of the body is no longer public record.

Rutherford County, North Carolina District Attorney Ted Bell said Flores faces two cases there.  He intends to prosecute the local charge first.

He said his office is cooperating with Florida authorities who are seeking to extradite Flores back to the state with a governor’s warrant.

Bell also stated Flores is not talking to authorities.  He has had one prior court appearance where bond was set at $2 million.

The 36th annual Florida Cracker Trail Drive is underway.

They reached Highlands County last night and will spend tonight in Lorida before moving onto Okeechobee on Thursday.

Entertainment tonight includes a whip cracking contest at the Smith Ranch.

Thursday they stop at the Edna Pearce Lockett Estate for lunch in Fort Basinger and spend the night at the Bass ranch in Basinger.

Trail Boss Robert Wolfe said the Kissimmee River crossing can be challenging.

“It’s a teaching thing for the horses.  We have to put mats down on the bridge to make sure no shoes get caught.  It’s a learning thing for the riders but it is one of the more exciting moments of the drive.”

After the Civil War, a group of settlers were known as Florida Crackers because of the cracking sound of the whips they used to flush cows out of palmettos and get oxen to pull carts and wagons.

The group gathered each year west of Fort Pierce for a long cattle drive across the state to Bradenton and Punta Rassa.

The trial was considered the only dry route across Florida with the Kissimmee River and its floodplains to the north and Lake Okeechobee and the Everglades to the south.

Neighboring counties received a boost in hotel and motel revenue from Hurricane Ian.

Highlands County tourism official said every motel room in the county was full in October and parts of November for residents from Southwest Florida looking for housing.

A report from Visit Florida on tourism found 10 percent of Highlands County jobs are tied to tourism with an annual economic impact of $83 million.