PORT RICHEY — The irony of it all, his friend said, is that Hermel Levesque would probably have helped the man who deputies say killed him.
That's because Levesque approached life as a chance to serve others, said Linda Courtemanche, whether through hosting dinner parties, supplying handiwork or donating profits from yard sales and flea markets.
"He was a giver," said Courtemanche, 68, a Hudson resident who befriended him this past decade. "And in the end, they took."
Deputies say it was Jose Antonio Morales Jr., 35, who took Levesque's Ford Explorer on April 27 with Levesque in the back seat — and who then took Levesque's life when he crashed the SUV on State Road 52 in Hudson.
Levesque, 74, suffered fatal head injuries in the wreck, according to the Pasco County Sheriff's Office.
Morales was sent to a hospital for treatment and later taken into custody. He was released and booked into the county jail on Saturday. Morales, who is from Weeki Wachee, now faces a felony murder charge, which is usually employed when someone dies during the commission of another crime. He was being held Wednesday in lieu of $50,000 bail.
Hermel Levesque's friends knew him as Mel Levesque. He lived in Port Richey, and it was there and across west Pasco County that he left behind his generous heart, Courtemanche said. She and her husband Donald Courtemanche met Levesque and his wife Olivette in 2008 at a Christmas party. The connection was immediate.
"It was as though we had known them all our lives," Linda Courtemanche said.
The Levesques had grown up in the Canadian province of New Brunswick, where they learned French as their mother tongue. They were married for over 50 years, lived in Connecticut and had two daughters and a son. The couple retired to Pasco County in the mid-2000s.
"They loved to entertain," Courtemanche said, and Levesque loved to make people happy.
"He was one of those people that you know he loves you from the minute he sets eyes on you," she said.
He came up with pet names for his friends: Courtemanche's was "Ma Belle," a French phrase for "my beautiful" or "gorgeous" that he said with a heavy accent.
Levesque often ran garage sales that spilled into his driveway or yard, offering wares he had collected from auctions and flea markets. He liked sharing profits with those in need, his friend said.
One example was St. Marks Presbyterian Church. Levesque wasn't a congregant, but one day he looked at its big parking lot and "saw the possibility," she said. He talked to the church and got permission to host flea markets on Fridays and Saturdays. A St. Marks official said Levesque collected a share of the profits from vendors and donated it to the church.
Levesque was setting up tables by the church on the day he died. At about 5 a.m., Jose Morales abandoned a vehicle at the nearby Overtime Grill, leaving it running, in drive, with three flat tires and damaged rims, the Sheriff's Office said.
He made his way to the church property and walked up to Levesque's SUV. Then Morales got behind the wheel and sped off with Levesque in the back seat, deputies said, in what they called a carjacking.
Morales swerved through the lot, according to the Sheriff's Office, spilling items from a trailer attached to the SUV as he drove onto State Road 52. He crossed lanes and drove erratically for half a mile until he crashed the SUV between a bench and a pole, deputies said. It rolled over and landed right side up. The trailer was severed.
Within hours, Olivette Levesque called Courtemanche with the news.
"I lost the love of my life," the widow said in French.
That night, the couple had planned to celebrate Olivette Levesque's 71st birthday.
There are reminders of Mel Levesque and his generosity all around her, Courtemanche said. When her home flooded a few years ago, he showed up with his tools every day for 3½ months to fix the place up.
"My kitchen is him," she said. "Everything is him."
Times senior researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Contact Justin Trombly at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @JustinTrombly.