POLK COUNTY, Fla- — A Winter Haven resident is behind bars after police arrested and charged them with the hit-and-run crash that killed a teen girl and seriously injured another on July 4.
Detectives have arrested the suspect responsible for killing a teenaged girl and injuring another after hitting them with his truck and fleeing the scene in Lakeland on July 4, 2021.
On July 4, 2021, around 10:11 p.m., two teen girls were hit on the northern shoulder of the westbound lanes of New Tampa Highway approximately ½ mile east of Clark Road, Lakeland.
Both of the victims were thrown onto the grass shoulder of the road and knocked both unconscious immediately after impact.
The vehicle, a white truck, then fled the scene and made no attempt to stop, render aid, or call the police.
Police say the vehicle fled based on the audio from the surveillance video recording. The engine of the suspect vehicle is heard revving and speeding off. Both victims (14-year-old girls) were transported to the hospital with life-threatening injuries.
One victim was later released after treatment and determination her injuries were no longer life-threatening. The other victim never woke up from the injuries sustained in this crash and succumbed to those injuries on July 6, 2021.
The alleged driver Matthew David O'Neill, 28, of Lake Ring Drive in Winter Haven, is being charged with:
- Leaving the scene of a crash involving death (F1)
- Leaving the scene of a crash involving injury (F3)
- Tampering with evidence (F1)
Detectives located O'Neill based on tips from the community.
"An exhaustive search was originally conducted and video evidence was located of the actual crash. The video identified a white 1997-2003 Ford F-150 with an extended cab to be the suspect vehicle. This video also showed that this truck had a non-transparent covering over the right side, front passenger widow. The placement of this covering is consistent with what is used to cover a broken window. The truck is seen to strike the two victims and the engine can then be heard to increase in RPM's. This indicated the driver accelerated from the scene and then did not slow until it reached the next intersection, where there was a red light. A search of the scene for evidence resulted in the locating of a few pieces of a honeycombed style grill to be within the crash area and close to the point of impact. These pieces were identified to be from a 1997-2003 Ford F-150."-Polk Sherrif
On July 14, 2021, PCSO received a tip that the suspect had been overheard making comments about how he was in the area of the crash, on the night of the crash, and knew he had hit something but was unsure of what it was.
The tip indicated that the suspect worked at Apple Cabinet Makers in Dundee. The suspected vehicle was parked and unoccupied in the driveway of O'Neill's home.
"During this processing of the suspect vehicle the entire inside, outside, and undercarriage of the vehicle were searched. It was observed that the passenger side front window, which had been covered in the video, appeared to have recently had a substantial amount of duct tape removed from it. This was apparent due to the amount of residual adhesive left on the window frame. The pieces of the honeycombed grill found at the scene of the crash were verified to nearly perfectly match this suspect vehicle damage to include the color, break points, and the break patterns. Also located on the vehicle was apparent blood on the inside edge of the hood, apparent human hair in the lower right side bumper, lower right headlight assembly and inside the right wheel well. The damage observed to be present on the suspect vehicle during this inspection is consistent with what is expected to be seen in a vehicle versus pedestrian strike."
“I can tell you that our detectives worked doggedly on this case right from the start. We received numerous tips, most of which didn’t pan-out. Detectives first found the truck, then a suspect. Their diligence in gathering evidence shows that the suspect was the one who hit those young girls, then fled, and refused to accept responsibility.” – Grady Judd.