NewsPolk County


Father of teen killed in hit and run wanted longer sentence for driver

Anthony Cogswell
Posted at 7:40 PM, Apr 08, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-08 19:40:41-04

LAKELAND, Fla. — It was July 4th, and Shana Blair and her best friend Emily were walking to the store to buy some hair dye to celebrate the holiday. Shana would never make it home.

“Emily said that they were off in the grass and the last thing she remembered was yelling and a heavy push,” said Anthony Cogswell, Shana’s father.

Anthony Cogswell said his 14-year-old daughter Shana Blair is a hero. Shana saw a white pick-up truck coming toward her and her best friend Emily, as they walked along New Tampa Highway in Lakeland. Shana jumped in front of her friend to save her.

Emily was injured in that hit-and-run crash. Shana did not survive.

“She had a really big heart, caring, excellent role model for her other siblings. Just a great soul, just a great human being,” Cogswell said.

The driver Matthew O'Neill, 28, fled the scene. Detectives located his truck a week later and arrested him.

“Their diligence in gathering evidence shows that the suspect was the one who hit those young girls, then fled, and refused to accept responsibility,” said Sheriff Grady Judd.

O'Neill entered a plea. On Thursday, he was sentenced to four years in prison. Cogswell said it's a slap on the wrist.

“Originally the state attorney only wanted to give him 21 months and two years probation. I fought as hard as I could to get the four years prison and the six years probation,” Cogswell said.

“This is happening every day across the state of Florida,” said Dan Marquith, Executive Director of Mothers Against Drunk Driving Central Florida.

Marquith said the organization is working to get stricter sentencing for drivers involved in deadly crashes.

“We would like to see legislation that actually allows prosecutors to be prosecutors and be able to make decisions and allow judges to have proper sentencing guidelines,” he said.

For Cogswell, it’s the justice that Shana deserves.

“In the eyes of the law my daughter’s only worth that much time, isn’t fair because we’re sentenced to life and he gets a couple years and he gets to move on with his life,” Cogswell said.