One night a couple weeks ago, I looked into a case of injustice someone told me about: the case of a college student who was put in prison over a car accident.
What I expected to be just a quick glance-over ended up being ten consecutive hours of research. In the middle of the night, I wrote to his mother.
The next morning, she called me. She was only a few minutes in when I interrupted her, “Matthew had a seizure.”
I’m not good at small talk.
Undiagnosed Seizure Disorders
I know from personal experience the trajectory of a seizure, or from my husband telling me about them afterwards. Once I was diagnosed, at age 34 (I turned 40 today), I retroactively realized that it seemed I’d been having them for years.
It turns out, many people have seizures for years and don’t know it.
Almost always, within 24 hours of a seizure, a simple EEG will demonstrate abnormal brain activity. Almost always, when someone at the scene of a serious car accident demonstrates confusion, memory loss, or disorientation, first responders take them to a hospital.
So I asked my brother, a lieutenant firefighter and EMT, what he would do if he came upon a car accident with someone who was obviously confused, who drove into oncoming traffic. He went through a few on-scene protocols and said he’d take them to the hospital.
“Because it’s illegal not to,” he said. “They could have a condition that caused the accident, like a TIA (mini-stroke) or seizure. Or, they could have sustained a concussion, in which case they are at high risk of aneurysm– and when that happens, they are gone without a prayer.”
So, what he unwittingly told me was that Virginia Beach PD knew that Matthew Rushin could have a concussion, but they did nothing. In fact, one of the officers on the scene had responded to Matthew’s 2017 accident and remembered finding Matthew unconscious in a ditch with a traumatic brain injury.
Still, Matthew was not taken to a medic.
A Glitch in the Video?
Last week, when I received the full interrogation footage, I realized something else. Matthew Rushin appeared to be having a seizure right there in the interrogation room. He paces and stims relentlessly for over 20 minutes, except at one point, he stops kind of mid-step, makes some strange noises, and otherwise doesn’t move at all.
I kept thinking my video had paused.
And in the interest of the emergent nature of this case, I am putting this out without an expert consult. Matthew didn’t get on-scene health care. He still isn’t receiving care, and he’s suffering daily with debilitating headaches, dizziness, and transient blindness.
Since his defense didn’t bring this up in court, it’s now up to the court of public opinion.
Stages of a Seizure
Seizures have four stages. Here’s an infographic (text version here for screen-readers):
And below are excerpts quoted directly from the body cam summary and interrogation summary from the night of the accident and court transcripts from March 8, 2019, in line with the stages of a seizure:
Prodrome Stage (pulling into the lot en route to Panera Bread)
Hosang asks how Rushin was feeling earlier today before all this happened. He said that he was feeling great and he was going to go see his girlfriend.
Hosang asks Rushin what the rest of his driving record is like. He says he doesn’t speed, he stops at stop signs, and doesn’t run red lights.
Aural stage (following the minor collision in the parking lot)
Intense panic or fear
Rushin states so a car hit me, I was turning, and he was turning, and he came into my front left bumper. Rushin said I freaked out and so I drove away. He said I made it to the interstate “interpass” and I made a U-turn. I know I was not supposed to make a U-turn but I needed to get back to the car that I hit.
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”.
Rushin said he freaked out and wanted to get away from that area as soon as possible. He said “my mind went into flight mode and I wanted to get away…”.
Rushin says I was just going to “drive down this road to collect myself”.
Rushin said he thought [the man who clipped his bumper] would follow’ him into the parking lot if he moved up a little bit, but he didn’t “and so I freaked out”
Rushin indicates he was over the accident at the Total Wine and when he made the U-turn, his emotions were at a manageable level.
Officer Dolida says so you were upset? Rushin says I was pretty distraught.
Rushin said there were a lot of emotions coming through his head and that is why he cannot think clearly. Rushin likes to live his life “logic verses emotion” and in that moment, he was not thinking logically; he was thinking very emotionally.
Dolida said “so you freaked out and so what did you do then?” Rushin said, “I started [bawling]-my eyes out […]”
Rushin said there was so much going on in his head and that is why he was [bawling] his eyes out.
Rushin said he left (Total Wine) because he didn’t know what was happening, and he needed to get away to drive for a bit to breathe.
Rushin says that wasn’t him being impulsive, that was him trying to get away from the situation. He then says he wasn’t in control of that and didn’t know what was going on. He said it was just stress and he needed to get away from that.
Hosang asks how he was feeling before doing his breathing exercise. Rushin said it was hard to breathe, he was crying, and that it was frustration and anxiety all floating around in there while he was driving.
Ictal Stage (right before and during the crash)
Partial or full loss of consciousness; lapse of memory
Officer Dolida asks about airbags and if he was wearing his seatbelt, and Rushin says he does not remember. He said he saw “a flash of lights and was like oh shit, then the accident”. He said all he remembers is a “flash of the LED lights”.
Rushin said he was “obviously trying to steer into something so he wasn’t going into oncoming traffic, but when he came over here he was staring at ’a car”.
Rushin Says we can pick through his head all we want and he cannot remember passing that median and colliding with that vehicle.He said he was trying to get out of oncoming traffic and ended up in oncoming traffic, that he can’t remember, and he wasn’t trying to smack into anyone, or kill anyone.
Rushin says he does not remember that night [of the 2017 accident], and the next moment he woke up in the hospital.
Rushin says he was on the brakes and that he could feel the ABS pumping under his foot. Rushin said he does not remember the gas pedal he does remember the pumping of the ABS. Rushin says he remembers the brakes, but doesn’t remember where he was when he hit them.
Rushin said he did not realize he could not make a U-turn (by the interstate) until he was staring at the sign while making the U-turn. He said when he came out of it he lost control of the vehicle. [ Matthew seems to believe he came out of the U-turn and lost control, not realizing he drove nearly a quarter of a mile ]
Kera says what car hit you first? Rushin replies “I saw the Ford turning. I don’t know if I hit them. I don’t know who I hit first. I don’t remember.”
Rushin talks about making his U-turn at the median and then “came here [to the intersection when he crossed into oncoming traffic] I was out of control” and stated he was slamming on his brakes [ according to forensic engineers, Matthew thought he was slamming the brakes but was hitting the gas], but he was literally sliding. He said he doesn’t know who he hit, but thinks he hit that Ford (points toward white Ford Explorer) . [ This again demonstrates a loss of time between the U-turn and finding himself in oncoming traffic ]
Rushin says I remember this part; “I passed the Burger King sign and I was like okay we need to’go back. So I took a couple deep breaths and made the U-turn and that’s when the accident”. [ Again, indicating that he had the accident right outside the U-turn, demonstrating loss of memory ]
Rushin said when he came out of the U-turn, he could not control the truck. He ‘said when he came out of the U-turn, he was in the far right turn lane angling towards the-median. [ Once again demonstrating he thought he was crossing into the intersection outside of the U-turn. ]
Hosang tells Rushin that she is trying to figure out what he does remember because now he is telling Officer Dolida that he does not remember certain things, but remembers a specific detail like the LED lights. Rushin says “I remember the Ford. I remember a car being next to the Ford. I can’t exactly remember if there was a car behind the Ford”.
Rushin maintains he ended up on the wrong side of the road because he lost control of the car. Rushin does not recall what was going through his mind when he was “losing control” of the car. He recalls “the lights”. Rushin says he doesn’t recall “the truck spinning or the airbags going off”. He states that he remembers seeing that Ford and “coming to”. [ Emphasis mine. ]
Rushin says “I wasn*t trying to kill myself”, and says the emotions he was feeling in the car accident he definitely wasn’t feeling and couldn’t have been because he doesn’t even remember that car accident.
Rushin says he was thinking “Oh my god, I am in oncoming traffic now”.
Rushin says all he remembers is his ABS (anti-lock brake system) and the shine from the LED lights (on the Ford).
He estimates he was going between 20 and 30 [ because he thinks he was coming out of the U-turn 1/4 mile earlier ]. He thinks the speed limit is 25, 35, or 45 but states he doesn’t really know that part of First Colonial Road. Hosang says, “What if I told you at the point your car impacted the Ford, you were going 60 miles an hour?” He says “I don’t remember that, I was on my brakes”.
Loss of motor control
Rushin said “I was not fish tailing but I just couldn’t turn”.
He said he was ‘out of control, had nowhere else to go, and couldn’t steer. He said he was turning his steering wheel, and his truck wouldn’t go any which way.
He said again that he could not control the truck, and he could turn it a little bit.
Rushin talks about making his U-turn at the median and then “came here I was out of control” and stated he was slamming on his brakes, but he was literally sliding. He said he doesn’t know who he hit, but thinks he hit that Ford (points toward white Ford Explorer) .
Rushin said, “I said I couldn’t control my vehicle.” He reiterates he could turn it a little bit, but he doesn’t know what happened.
Rushin says, “I wasn’t even trying to hit anyone. I didn’t even know I was going to come into oncoming traffic.”
[Rushin] said, “I didn’t even know this was going to happen. I thought I am going to lose control. ‘I am going to hit the median.”
Rushin talks about how he was doing his deep breathing exercises thinking okay Matt, we are going to go and handle this. He said he was thinking okay Matt, we are going to find somewhere to put the truck, we can’t control the truck right now, but we are going to put the truck somewhere, and he hit the vehicle.
Post-Ictal Stage (after the crash)
Loss of consciousness/partial consciousness
[Rushin] said he was thinking why he wasn’t being defensive enough to notice that car coming straight for him.
Confusion, speech impaired
Officer Dolida says so you spun around the wrong way? Rushin says yes. Rushin says “no, no, no I made the U-turn I was driving the correct direction so I was out of control, and then I realized I was out of control, and I was in oncoming traffic”
Officer Kera says when you lost control did you wind up turning the wrong way in that same lane or what happened?. Rushin says he went from coming that way [ approaching the U-turn ] to coming into oncoming traffic.
Intense feelings of depression, emptiness, or suicidal ideation
Rushin blames his statements on when [name redacted] was saying “why the fuck did you do that”, and his suicidal statements were the first thing that came out of his mouth. Rushin said he didn’t want to make [redacted] more mad than he was, but can’t explain why that is the first thing that came to mind to say. He stated when the guy was holding him (after the crash), he felt like death.
Rushin said all these emotions were going through his head, he felt empty, then the guy [redacted name] came up to him, and he was like; “okay maybe I do want to die, no not even that, maybe I was trying to kill myself”.
Rushin says “I felt like death. I felt empty. So I want to die”. He says it is not that he wants to kill himself, he just says it he didn’t mean it. He says it was the accident and what it meant; now it means he doesn’t have a truck, his dad’s insurance is going to go up, and he has to Uber to work.
[Witness 2]: Matthew was very distraught. He didn’t seem like he was-all there. Like I was trying to talk to him and-he wasn’t really answering very well. And his speech was a little slurred. I asked him if he was drinking. He said, No.
[Witness 2]: And Matthew was still — he was still struggling with his answers, trying to answer the police officer. He just seemed, you know, like disturbed, you know, mentally at that moment. Like maybe shock. I don’t know. I’m not a doctor. So the police officer asked him for his ID. Police officer told him, you know, Don’t reach in your pockets. He asked him, Do you have anything in your pocket that can hurt me or can poke me, anything? Matthew said, No, no, but he continued to reach in his pocket for his ID. I toid him — I told myself, Don’t reach in your pockets, man. Don’t reach in your pockets. And he still did. So he wasn’t receiving what the officer was telling him.
[Witness 2]: [Matthew] was like moving his head around a lot. He was flailing his arms quite a bit, you know.
[Defense]: And you did notice that his speech was slurred, you said?
[Witness 2]: Yeah.
[Prosecution]: So was that — were you all having any other kind of conversation? Did you have — did you like say, calm down or —
[Witness 2]: I did. You know, I told him — I asked him to calm down. I actually asked him to lay down. I told him, you know, You were in a really bad accident. I really think you should lay down. He wasn’t receiving that from me. And so I asked him again. He still didn’t — it’s like he didn’t hear me.
[Defense]: So your overall impression even when the officer came up was that he was not understanding what was being communicated to him by you or the officer?
[Witness 2]: Yeah, somewhat. It was like some stuff he responded to, some things he didn’t —
Feelings of humiliation or guilt
Rushin explains he is very empathetic and felt the guy’s emotions, and that he started to feel that when ‘he got out and saw how bad everything was.
Rushin says I apologize for being erratic earlier and says do you know how many times I have been hit by cars.
Hosang asks how many times he thinks he told that guy [name redacted] that he was thinking of killing himself or wanted to kill himself. Rushin says five or six times. Hosang asked if he recalls what words he used and he replies, “I want to die.”
He said then he “could’ve found a park to sit in, call his dad, go to Panera, grab the pastries, see [girlfriend’s name], and go home”.
[Officer Jones]: Okay ~ so, you yelled some stuff at him about, you know, the accident and he responded back to you with, “I want to die” —or that’s what you perceived him to say…
[Witness 1]: Yeah, it’s something – “I, I wish I was dead or I want to die” or something like that.
Many, many, many times, Matthew was fixated on those “bright LED lights.” This is a known common trigger for focal seizures. Also, stress. We can imagine the stress of the fender bender in the parking lot, in combination with his car-accident-related PTSD, would be a powerful trigger.
I reached out to Matthew’s father, Demetrius Rushin, and asked him if it was characteristic for Matthew to be “bawling his eyes out,” to run away from something, or to “freak out.”
Demetrius said yes to the freaking out part, in that Matthew would be nervous and anxious, but not at all to the point of crying or driving away. Then he mused that something must have happened to Matthew that night, after he left the house, to get him so worked up.
Then, I contacted the girlfriend that Matthew was supposed to visit that night, and I asked her. She said she had seen him tear up with a reasonable amount of emotion, maybe shed a couple tears, but never “cry his eyes out.” She said it was very unlike Matthew to be so worked up he would drive away.
Seizures or No?
It’s impossible to tell, but every single word I have read point to someone so naively honest that it is patently absurd that anyone could believe he was lying about… well, anything.
In fact, when police asked him if he had had any alcohol or drugs that would have impaired his ability to drive, he told them that he had tried weed before, about five or six months prior.
He offered up every excruciatingly detailed memory he had. He withheld nothing. He told the same story over and over. Impaired consciousness further supports the conclusion of three forensic engineers who said that the data and evidence indicate pedal misapplication (believing he was hitting the gas but actually hitting the brake).
Cruel and Unusual
With seventeen officers responding to that crash, with the extreme candor and honesty Matthew displayed, with his gentle spirit, with his history of volunteerism, with his diagnostic profile, with his past traumatic brain injury, with his confusion and disorientation, it didn’t make sense to not get him to a hospital.
It didn’t make sense to charge him with attempted murder and manslaughter.
It didn’t make sense to deny him bail or prevent him from attending the three upcoming doctor appointments he had scheduled. Matthew was not violent. He never resisted. He was not a danger to the community. He had loving parents and a whole community behind him, ready to support him.
Why Did this Happen?
What doesn’t make any sense to me is why this happened. Why they would neglect their protocols, their training, the actual law, even…
The only fathomable explanation is that the Commonwealth Attorney wanted this conviction so badly that he was willing to risk Matthew dying in police custody to keep him away from a hospital, because then the obvious– a seizure– would have been discovered.
To contextualize what was said to Matthew, what he has been told about himself– that he is violent, immature, selfish, destructive, malicious, a danger to society– because he may have had a seizure is devastating.
I don’t know if Matthew had a seizure or not, but what I do know is that with no expert testimony, with no law degree, and with no medical degree, the evidence makes a far more convincing case for medical emergency than the Commonwealth Attorney made against Matthew.
The burden of proof is on the prosecution.
They proved nothing. They knew they didn’t even need to try. The defense was never going to try.
This cronyism, racism, and ableism is so entrenched that they kept Matthew away from a hospital or medical care because they knew it would ruin their case.
What other possible explanation could there be for such violence against Matthew Rushin, who played the violin and the piano, who fed the homeless, who was different, who spent his high school years hiding from bullies in the orchestra room, who told the people who would lock him in a cage that he loved them, who sounded just like Elijah McClain…
What other explanation could there be for such malicious and violent behavior from the Virginia Beach Commonwealth Attorney?
I’ll be waiting.
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