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Cellphone tracking leads to arrest in fatal hit-and-run in Florida

A Secret Service analysis of cellphone records documenting conversations between the car owner in the crash and a friend results in vehicular-homicide charges in Fort Lauderdale.

March 22, 2010|By Mike Clary and Jon Burstein

Reporting from Miami — To crack the case of a speeding Porsche that left two men dead, Fort Lauderdale police turned to a federal crime-fighting ally: the Secret Service.

The government agency that protects the president and zealously pursues counterfeiters played a role in the investigation by analyzing cellphone records for the car's owner and one of his friends, police records show.

The analysis helped lead to vehicular homicide charges against the Porsche's owner, Ryan LeVin, who is now in the Broward County Jail without bail.

What got the Secret Service involved? Neither the federal agency nor Fort Lauderdale police would say. The local head of the Secret Service declined to discuss how often his agency is asked to analyze such cellphone records.

"That's a sensitive investigative technique that we use," said Michael Fithen, special agent in charge of the Miami office. "The Secret Service tries to cooperate and assist all law enforcement agencies when that request is made of us that's for a variety of different investigative abilities."

The investigation of the Feb. 13, 2009, hit-and-run in Fort Lauderdale demonstrated again how cellphone owners, without realizing it, leave behind electronic trails of their whereabouts that can later be re-created by investigators.

When a phone is within range of at least three cellphone towers, companies can place its location within about 300 yards. That distance can be reduced in some cases to 20 yards when the phone is a newer model with Wi-Fi capability.

In the LeVin case, police investigators used court orders to obtain cellphone records from Sprint and AT&T that document calls between LeVin and his friend, Derek W. Cook, and trace their movements before and after the fatal 2:18 a.m. collision.

With the historical record left by each suspect's phone connecting to area cellphone towers, investigators say, they can show that Cook was not the driver of the Porsche 911 Turbo at the time of the crash, as LeVin told police.

LeVin, 35, is charged with two counts of vehicular homicide and two counts of leaving the scene of a traffic fatality. The Barrington Hills, Ill., man faces up to 15 years in prison on each of the vehicular homicide charges. Cook, 38, is charged with being an accessory after the fact and aggravated fleeing and eluding. He is free on bond.

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