This is the sixth installment from this series detailing the events that led to a Black, autistic college student being charged with attempted murder hours after a car accident. To learn more about this story and how you can become involved, please visit http://FreeMatthewRushin.com.
Skilled Autistic Stunt Driver, Clumsy Autistic Panic Driver, or Homicidal Maniacal Driver?
From the time I first read about Matthew’s accident, the way the accident has been described has wildly varied.
Mostly, the tale has been told in melodramatic language, especially by local news stations, with sensational accounts of a giant SUV (a 2008 Tahoe) weaving in and out of congested traffic, in the wrong direction, at speeds in excess of 90 miles per hour.
A 20-year-old rushes to flee accountability after hitting someone in a parking lot, then goes on this driving rampage and eventually crashes into someone head on, on purpose, causing severe injury to a tourist.
It sounded more like a Die Hard movie than an accident.
So, I was left with essentially two choices:
1. to believe Matthew Rushin had a severe PTSD autistic meltdown and didn’t know what he was doing, lost control, and crashed, or
2. to believe Matthew Rushin was in control, chose to flee the scene of an accident, and then used his large vehicle like a guided missile in an attempt to end his life while also ending someone else’s (or at least having no regard for their safety).
But, I’ve spent over 140 hours of the last week poring over the details of this case, reaching out to relevant people, conducting interviews, scouring Matthew’s online fingerprints, and requesting additional information.
Because in the courtroom, the logistics of the accident were never really described with more than a few words. The “footage” of the accident (as can be seen in this article) doesn’t even show the accident– or anything, really.
And the footage that would have shown the accident, or the events no one saw but somehow became a part of the narrative, didn’t show up in court.
There were two cars hit: an initial impact and a car that was hit when the Tahoe spun sideways.
I can only guess that the footage didn’t show the narrative they wanted to paint, because it is clear that there was an agenda in Matthew Rushin’s case.
The Facts of the Crash
So, here’s what I have:
-Body cam transcript summary (coming soon)*
-Police report of the crash*
-Bosch Crash Data Reports (CDR) from Matthew’s vehicle and the vehicle he struck*
-All court transcripts that were transcribed*
-Matthew’s medical and school records
-Police diagram of Matthew’s route up to point of impact*
-Images from the scene*
-Reports from the car insurance company
-Full video of the interrogation
-Interviews conducted by me of several relevant parties
*All information with an asterisk (*) is what I forwarded to to experts (see below).
There were only two witnesses to the crash. A third witness heard it but didn’t see it.
The first thing that is apparent is that no one understood why Matthew freaked out. The “bump” in the parking lot that was supposed to be a minor accident was allegedly Matthew’s fault; however, when I read the court transcripts, I had a hard time understanding why that accident was Matthew’s fault.
In reading the transcript from the body cameras, Matthew references that accident four times. Each time, he explains why he freaked out, and each time, the officers fail to understand what he was trying to communicate.
From the transcript:
Rushin is approached by Officer Daley and Officer Dolida. Officer Daley introduces himself and Rushin says “can I please talk to someone.” Daley asks if he needs rescue. Rushin says no. Rushin states so a car hit me, I was turning, and he was turning, and he came into my front left bumper. […]
Rushin states I was turning into the parking lot where Panera is (by Total Wine) near Chipotle, Dairy Queen, and Chic fil A. […] Rushin says he turns onto the service road and is turning into the parking lot when a Volvo hits him. He states; it hits my front left. Rushin says so I stop and “I look at him and he’s not backing up, he is not going anywhere, so I freak out because I thought he was just going to pull off [to a safe location out of traffic, to exchange insurance information]”.
Here’s another instance:
Dolida asks “where did the other car come from?” Rushin says they were coming this way (towards him). Dolida asks where he impacted them. Rushin says “I did not hit them”. Rushin says “our both front lefts collided. I don’t even think it was that bad it was just a little chunk of his front bumper”. Dolida said “did he stop at that point?” Rushin responds, “Yeah he was stopped, he was still stopped”. Rushin says he sat there and waited to see where [the other driver] was going to go. He said he moved forward a little bit to see if [the other driver] would follow him because they were still in the entrance/exit area.
Rushin said he thought [the other driver] would follow him into the parking lot if he moved up a little bit, but he didn’t “and so I freaked out”.
Matthew didn’t “freak out” because of the accident. He states “it wasn’t even that bad” and believed it was the other person’s fault. He “freaks out” because the other driver is remaining in the intersection instead of pulling over to exchange information.
The other man was breaking the law by not moving out of the intersection, and Matthew didn’t know what to do about that.
This is when he took off his seat belt, to exchange information.
It was never mentioned that the man who hit Matthew was at a stop sign, or that Matthew believed him be at fault. It was also never mentioned that Matthew “freaked out” because the other man was sitting in an intersection.
Not by the police, not by the defense, and not by the news.
Autistic People and Rules
Autistic people would understand Matthew’s conundrum because we thrive with clear expectations. Matthew tried to signal the other driver to move to safety, which is what he would have been legally required to do, but the driver remained parked in the intersection.
This is corroborated by the other driver who states that he sat there and called his girlfriend (or wife, because that story kept changing) to let her know he was going to be late.
So, Matthew took off, drove a few blocks, made a U-turn, then headed back because he knew he couldn’t leave an accident, even if it was someone else’s fault.
Right out of that U-turn is where things went south.
The forensic data was undeniably disconcerting.
Matthew drove into someone at ~sixty miles per hour. There were no skid marks on the road. The detectives who interrogated Matthew claimed to have watched a video– twice— which demonstrated that he never applied the brakes. [ This video didn’t exist ].
Matthew’s account, however, was much different.
In the courtroom, there was almost no description of the actual accident. What description there was, essentially, was two accounts of, “I saw headlights approaching, and then boom.” And, that checks out. No one is debating that the crash happened, just whether it was an intentional suicide-homicide attempt or an accident.
I’ve heard from three forensic engineers, and waiting to hear from a fourth.
So far, they all say the same thing.
This was an accident.
Evidence and Interpretation
Matthew deserved a strong legal defense. That is a staple of the Bill of Rights, the 6th Amendment, that the accused have competent counsel.
“Of all the rights that an accused person has, the right to be represented by counsel is by far the most pervasive, for it affects his ability to assert any other rights he may have.” United States v. Cronic, 466 U.S. 648 (1984)
Matthew didn’t get that. In fact, one reading transcripts would have a hard time discriminating between who was the prosecution and who was the defense.
Further, an innocent man was severely injured in this accident. He and his family deserve an expert explanation of the facts, even if those facts were not what I hoped they would be.
So, I sought a consultation with someone who had the credentials and experience to be able to do justice for Matthew and for the victims. I was going to post the results regardless of what they were.
Kurt Weiss, Forensic Engineer and Crash Reconstruction Specialist
I requested that he provide his report in the form of a letter, and I have redacted from that report the address by placing a box over it. Here is that report (address redacted for privacy):
Consistent with the informal consultations I obtained from two other forensic engineers, Matthew’s accident looked to be a classic case of pedal misapplication.
Here’s that accident trajectory from Virginia Beach Police Department, followed by a diagram of impact location.
And here’s the diagram from the police report:
This is a pretty clear demonstration of someone trying to hug a curb, but the turn lane ended. It’s someone trying to stop, and it gels with his story– the same story that he told 100 times that night without changing a single detail.
Under this bridge, there’s a giant concrete abutment. If Matthew wanted to travel fast enough to kill himself, he could’ve gotten on the expressway here or could’ve driven into the abutment.
Here’s the view from right before making that U-turn (from Google maps, not an actual image from that night):
And immediately after the U-turn:
And here is where Matthew tried to steer his truck into the grass median to stop, and where he hugged the curb until the turn lane ended. Notice the off-set median that makes a straight line about the only option when one is traveling at high speed (because they believe the gas pedal is the brake).
Why didn’t pedal misapplication even get a mention in the court room?
Could it possibly be that of the 17 officers present, none of them were familiar with pedal misapplication?
Well, let’s look at that. From the interrogation footage (emphasis in transcript mine).
Transcript from video:
Officer Hosang, with long hair and wearing a black shirt
Officer Dolida, with very short hair and wearing a police uniform
Hosang: __Sit there
Hosang: Alright, you need a drink or anything? Ok, fine. So Officer Dolida and I had to go back and look at a few more things so we looked at the video that things like that?
Matthew: nods [affirmative sound]
Hosang: The other officers that you saw out there, remember when we talked about how people were out there taking some pictures, doing some scans, looking at the crash investigation.
Matthew: [affirmative sound]
Hosang: And officer Dolida can probably explain it better than I can, but ultimately what they do when they conduct that investigation, it sort of helps us figure out what, y’know, what happens. Especially because there’s a video. You know, about what actually happened. Was there braking? Was there not braking? Did you think you were braking and maybe you were weren’t?
Hosang: Things like that. So you’ve had a little bit of time to kind of calm down a little bit. Have you remembered any more about the crash?
Matthew: Um, like I said, all I remember is my ABS (anti-lock braking system) and the shine from those lights.
Hosang: The shine from the headlights from the Ford, that’s what you’re talking about?
Matthew: Yes, the LED lights.
Hosang: Okay. What do you think it is that makes you remember those lights so vividly?
Matthew: I don’t know. Cuz I don’t remember the point of impact. I don’t remember anything else but those lights.
Hosang: Okay. Then you told us that you don’t take any prescription medications.
Hosang: Did you use any illegal drugs tonight?
Hosang: Not even a sip?
Matthew: Nope [shakes head]
Hosang: Nothing that would impair your judgement or ability to drive.
Hosang: Okay. So we just watched the video and your brake lights do not come on. You won’t see brake lights in the video.
Matthew: I was on my brakes. I can promise you that.
Hosang: Okay. What makes you so confident that you were on your brakes?
Matthew: ‘Cause I wasn’t on my accelerator.
Hosang: Okay… And at the scene you said, when we were talking to you, you said you were accelerating like the pavement was dry?
Matthew: Yeah, I was accelerating around the corner [U-turn] like the pavement was dry.
Hosang: Can you explain what that means? I don’t want to misunderstand.
Matthew: Um, like, you know usually when it’s wet out, you accelerate around the corner slower so you don’t hydroplane, right? That’s how you usually drive and I was… I didn’t slow down, I think I was doing like 25 or 30 around that U-turn. Which is… I do probably 20 or 25 when it’s dry out. So I was going a whole lot faster than I was supposed to be going since it was wet out.
Hosang: How fast do you think you were going?
Matthew: Like I said, 25… between 20 and 30.
Hosang: Miles per hour?
So, we know that the police were looking into pedal misapplication.
But what about the defense?
Was Matthew’s attorney just unfamiliar with pedal misapplication, then, and didn’t know to consider it– since the details very obviously pointed to that as the cause of accident.
Well, let’s check that out.
This is an image of a car being pulled out of the law office of Matthew’s attorney. Anyone want to guess the cause of accident?
But, supposedly, Matthew’s lawyer hired a forensic specialist to reconstruct the accident– which is not cheap– and told Matthew’s family that the reconstruction didn’t good look for Matthew and wasn’t in his best interest to bring it up.
But, it was the lawyer’s friend. Matthew’s family never received that report.
I wonder what the bill for that was.
Innocence, Intent, & Crime
Innocence is an irrelevant concept, an impossible standard that no one can meet. Everyone has broken laws, sometimes justly. Everyone has weak spots. Everyone makes mistakes.
Too often, the dialogue around police injustice becomes about why a certain person isn’t a model citizen, as if anyone deserves to be murdered or incarcerated unjustly.
Matthew made a mistake. His disability played into that mistake. Maybe he shouldn’t have been driving, but how could he have known that? Sensory issues and executive functioning deficits are the most frequent predictors of pedal misapplication, from what I have read.
We know Matthew had those. He has been sleeping on the floor for two years because of vestibular instability.
Would we criminally penalize a driver who fainted? Who had a seizure but didn’t know they had a seizure disorder? Who had an allergic reaction?
Is it a crime, a moral failing, something worth removing from someone their freedom, to make a mistake as a direct result of having a disability?
Or is it that being Black and disabled makes a mistake a criminal offense?
Please visit http://FreeMatthewRushin.com for more information, to sign the petition, contribute to Matthew’s legal defense fund, and find out other ways you can help.