Man gets 12-year prison term in hit-and-run death of correctional officer
BY RUTH ANN KRAUSE Post-Tribune correspondent February 7, 2014 12:32PM
Updated: March 9, 2014 6:18AM
A Lakes of the Four Seasons man was sentenced to 12 years in prison for reckless homicide and other charges in a hit-and-run crash that killed a Lake County correctional officer and injured three of her colleagues.
Jason Cozmanoff, 44, apologized to the family of Britney Meux, 25, who was killed, and the other injured officers — Latasha Johnson, Delano Scaife and David Murchek — and their families.
“I wish I could take this tragic evening back, but I can’t. All I can do is pray for those who are involved,” he said.
A jury convicted Cozmanoff on Dec. 11 of all 13 counts, including reckless homicide, criminal recklessness, failure to stop after an accident resulting in death and misdemeanor reckless driving.
Meux, 25, a Marine veteran, died at the scene.
Evidence during the nine-day trial showed Cozmanoff was traveling about 70 mph when he struck the officers on 93rd Avenue near Main Street, just north of the Lake County Government Center, and then fled. He drove the 2002 GMC Yukon home to Lakes of the Four Seasons with a gaping hole in the shattered windshield and extensive front-end damage. Both airbags were deployed in the crash, and Scaife’s blood was inside the SUV.
Cozmanoff surrendered the following evening, accompanied by his defense attorney, James Thiros.
Jacqueline Meux said losing her bright, young, motivated daughter “hurts every day” and has affected her job, her life and her family deeply. “You go home. You get a chance for life. You get a change to wake up every day. I had to regroup because I have grandkids,” she said, adding she will face the difficult task of explaining to Britney’s young daughter why her mother is no longer here.
“I forgive you. I have to forgive you in order for me to keep going,” she said. “I hope at the end of this journey you will become a better person and help someone else along the way.”
One by one, each of the injured officers described the impact the crash had on their lives. Johnson described depending on her children to tie her shoes and comb her hair, and her mother for cooking meals as she went through six months of constant pain and nine months of therapy for a shoulder injury.
She, like Murchek and Scaife, said Cozmanoff had shown no remorse for his actions. “I just wanted humbleness from him,” said Scaife, who suffered severe injuries that have forced him to a desk job and left him dealing with guilt over his survival and Britney’s death.
The officers testified they were running east with traffic on the south edge of the roadway after sunset, at about 7 p.m. on March 6, 2012, when they were hit. They were not wearing reflective gear.
Thiros argued that the officers who were jogging along the dark stretch of roadway in part induced the crash, and noted that all three testified differently as to their exact location at the time of the crash. He also said his client, a union bricklayer with three dependent children, has no prior felony convictions and the strong support of his family and friends.
Thiros said his client was poised to plead guilty before additional charges were filed and that attempts to negotiate a plea agreement failed.
Deputy prosecutor Mark Watson, who presented evidence with trial supervisor Kathleen O’Halloran, argued that Cozmanoff’s excessive speed at the time of the crash — more than double the speed limit — was an aggravating factor, as was the fact the defendant left behind multiple victims.
Lake Superior Court Judge Salvador Vasquez said the fact that Cozmanoff was drinking with friends before the crash and fled afterward were most likely related to the defendant’s desire “to conceal a BAC,” referring to blood-alcohol content.
Less than 24 hours before the crash, Cozmanoff had been given a warning for speeding in the private community where he lives. “That should have been a wakeup call,” Vasquez said.
In 2009, Cozmanoff was charged with drunken driving and pleaded guilty to misdemeanor public intoxication.