By Ashley Cox

POLK COUNTY, Fla. (CW44 News At 10)–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, has been arresred by detectives.

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)

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Photo Credits: Polk County Sheriff’s Office

The following is an excerpt from his affidavit, and it is self-explanatory:

On July 4, 2021, at approximately 10:11pm, a hit and run traffic crash with fatal injuries to one person and serious bodily injuries to another person occurred on the northern shoulder of the westbound lanes of New Tampa Highway approximately ½ mile east of Clark Road, Lakeland. The two victims in this crash were walking as pedestrians in this area. Neither of the victims is believed to have been within the travel lanes of the roadways and did not create a roadway obstruction for passing vehicles. It is believed the two victims had left a party and were attempting to walk home when this crash event occurred.

At the same time, a white 1999 Ford F150 pickup truck bearing FL tag Z86-DWD and with an assigned V.I.N. of 1FTRX18L5XNB83688, was travelling westbound on New Tampa Highway and struck both of the victims. This impact propelled both of the victims farther into grass shoulder of the road and is believed to have caused them both to become unconscious immediately after impact. The vehicle then fled the scene and made no attempt to stop, render aide, or make notification to required entities of the crash. It is believed the vehicle fled based on the audio from the surveillance video recording. The engine of the suspect vehicle is heard rapidly increasing its RPMs along with the increased volume emitting from the vehicle.

Both victims (14-year-old girls) were originally transported from the scene 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.

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.

Photo Credits: Polk County Sheriff’s Office

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. Detectives determines his private residence, 105 Ring Lake Drive, Winter Haven, Polk County, FL, as a possible location for the truck and suspect, and responded to the area. The suspect vehicle was parked and unoccupied in the driveway of this residence and surrounding area clearly from the roadway. Detectives authored a search warrant for the seizure and search of this vehicle, which was then seized and transported to the PCSO Crime Scene warehouse.

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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.

During this inspection it was also obvious that recent attempts to clean the hood, front right quarter panel, and front right tire had been made. At the private residence of the suspect, a new empty bottle of ammonia was located on top of the trash and in plain view. The swirl and wipe marks located on the vehicle also had substantial fluid runoff towards the ground.

Based on witness statements the suspect had been observed to be “working on” his truck starting on July 6, 2021, where he removed the duct tape from the front passenger side window along with other indications he was manipulating the vehicle. There was no indication the suspect was attempting to make repairs to this area supporting the need to remove this tape. This is believed to have been an attempt to hide this detail of the suspect vehicle description which had been released to the public. These facts are based off of the sounds observed to be coming from that area, as well as observing him moving around the front of the truck for an extended period of time.

The suspect stated that on July 6, 2021, he was involved in a vehicle crash at Cypress Gardens Blvd and 1st St South, Winter Haven. The suspect stated, specifically, that the grill damage observed on his vehicle was from this crash. We know this to be untrue due to the pieces of grill be located at the scene of this hit and run crash.

These facts support the charge of tampering with evidence.

The suspect is the sole registered owner of the suspect vehicle and with no other vehicles registered to him or apparently available to him. It is reasonable to believe this 1999 Ford F-150 is his primary mode of transportation for O’Neill. On the day of the crash the suspect was seen to be at the intersection of Lake Ring Dr. and Desoto Rd, Winter Haven, at approximately 19:50 hrs, which is the roadway in front of his house. A witness stated the vehicle was broke down for approximately 30 minutes before the suspect was able to get the vehicle started and then he left the area.

The next time the suspect or suspect vehicle are observed is at 22:17 hours at the scene of the crash where it was captured by surveillance video from a business adjacent to this crash scene. The next time the suspect is observed is at 22:44 hours, entering the subdivision of Walden Lakes off of Timberlane Drive, Plant City, FL, where his parents live. The security video from this entrance was retrieved and clearly shows the suspect driving the suspect vehicle entering this community. This video also shows the damaged area of the honeycombed front grill of the suspect vehicle. The suspect had previously stated during the initial contact conversation that on the night of July 4, 2021 he had never left the city of Winter Haven. This video shows this to be untrue. The crash scene is also on the route of travel from the suspect’s house to his parent’s house.

All of these facts support the charges of Leaving the Scene of the Crash Involving Death (F1), Leaving the Scene of a Crash Involving Injuries (F3), and Tampering with Evidence (F3).

The processing of evidence is ongoing, and several samples from the truck have been submitted for further analysis, but detectives do have probable cause to arrest O’Neill.

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“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,” said Grady Judd, Sheriff