I know why Matthew Rushin said he wished he was dead, and why that was the furthest thing from admitting to trying to commit suicide via car accident.
Who Is Matthew Rushin
Matthew Rushin is a young Black man diagnosed with ADHD, Asperger’s, and anxiety disorder. Due to a car accident that nearly took his life, he incurred several serious injuries including Traumatic Brain Injury and two collapsed lungs, which caused him to remain in the hospital, unconscious, for several days. Although I don’t know if he was officially diagnosed with PTSD from the incident, it’s hard to imagine that wasn’t a highly traumatic experience for him.
Two years after the accident, he went to go to Panera, where he worked, to get pastries. On his way into the shopping center, he clipped a car that was coming out. This triggered a very expected response from someone traumatized as well as someone on the autism spectrum. He “freaked out” and left the scene.
I wholeheartedly believe the incident caused a meltdown, possibly an anxiety attack, and/or a flashback to the traumatic event he experienced.
If you don’t understand meltdowns, they are an intense overload on the brain that can affect being able to think straight, motor functions, and more. When the outburst of a meltdown is over, which can include screaming and crying, hyperventilating, writhing, and more, the effects are far from over.
You can feel the nerves in your body tingling. Every sensory input is heightened and it’s easy to over-react to even small things. Anything is likely to spark another one, especially immediately after. The aftereffects of a meltdown can last weeks.
The thing about Matthew is that, after doing his breathing exercises to calm down, he wanted to do the right thing and go back. He did a U-turn to return to the scene, but lost control of the vehicle. It was very possible that it was due to hydroplaning as it was raining at the time. Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to gain control of the car in time and he clipped the driver’s side of a vehicle, which caused them both to spin out of control. Another car ended up hitting Matthew’s.
Matthew managed to get out of his car from the rear, forced to use that as an exit because of the airbags going off. When he emerged, he was immediately verbally attacked by the driver of the car that hit him. Witness reports say that the man almost pinned Matthew to the vehicle, yelling aggressively and seeming to want to start a fight.
Witness reports again state he was disoriented, his speech was slurred, and he was not responsive to the Officer speaking to him.
Here’s where Matthew’s words came out, the ones that were used to put him in jail.
“I wish I was dead.”
These words would be used against him to try to say that Matthew hit the car in a suicide attempt. But that’s not at all what he meant. As an autistic individual with trauma related to car accidents (nothing nearly as severe as what Matthew endured), I would have said the same thing.
“I Want To Die”
Just months after being hit by a vehicle going at least 60 mph on the highway and said vehicle leaving the scene before police arrived, I was rear-ended in traffic. It was minor, but I was scared that I had hit the person in front of me as a consequence.
“I want to die,” was something I immediately thought. I screamed and cried in a meltdown, barely having a clear enough head to cross lanes of traffic to pull over and get out of the way.
Thankfully, I hadn’t hit the person in front of me. But the very possibility that I had participated (even if it was not my fault) in even an ounce of the pain to the person in front of me was suffocating in the moment.
People on the autism spectrum are known to do something called “eloping,” which is basically running away, often into a possibly unsafe situation.
Most people assume this is what children or high support needs individuals do, but anyone on the spectrum can do this, and it’s often an automatic response. This is what teen autistic Alex did when he hurled himself into traffic to get out of ABA therapy.
Matthew knew he couldn’t actually run away this time. So, he felt that immense pain, that he caused someone a pain anything like what he had went through just two years ago, and his version of elopement was, “I wish I was dead.”
Knowing that same sinking, horrifying, heavy, overwhelming and immense guilt and sorrow, the feeling that you just somehow ruined someone’s life, I immediately knew why Matthew said those words.
The Looming Wall of Horror
There was no time to realize that everyone was alive, or that the looming wall of horror was not as bad as it seemed in the moment. He was amidst the absolute worst of the effects of an autistic meltdown, the aftereffects of a possible panic attack, and the trauma of being in a car accident both just then and two years prior.
A Break from Protocol
Yet the responding officers did not follow protocol to check his mental health, even though they should have if Matthew had indeed intended to commit suicide. There were no drugs or alcohol involved, but his slurred speech and disorientation should have been an immediate sign of concern regarding his mental state.
Not only is Matthew autistic, experiencing the effects of serious trauma and meltdown which commonly cause incoherent responses, he also has a Traumatic Brain Injury. It was pure, absolute negligence to ignore the state of the young man and instead treat him as a criminal.
They made the situation impossible for Matthew. Tried to convince him that his foot was purposefully on the accelerator. In the midst of trauma and overload, an authority figure, a police officer, tried to convince Matthew that not only had he hurt someone, he had intended to do it.
This case makes me sick. To me, it is clear that Matthew is a caring and empathetic person. It is clear that instead of compassionate care for a person going through being in a car accident, police officers wanted to make Matthew into a bad guy. They claimed he said he wanted to commit suicide, but this statement itself was never said and never caught on body cams.
Matthew, in a trauma state, an autistic person in crisis, plead guilty to charges that were maliciously high and designed to bully him into an admission of guilt against his mother’s wishes, all without understanding what his plea actually meant would happen to him.
He is unjustly serving time– 10 years– for a crime he did not commit. He did not intend to cause harm. He did not try to commit suicide by crashing into a vehicle. He only wished he was dead when a man was in his face, screaming at him after he was involved in a car accident, because he felt an unspeakable amount of pain.
As an autistic person, it is undeniable to me that Matthew is wrongfully serving a sentence right now. It should be clear to you, as well. Please help bring attention to Matthew’s situation and call for a review of the case and his release by signing this petition.
Click here to contribute to the Rushin family’s legal defense fund.
- These Illinois Schools Prefer to Endanger Their Disabled Students - March 9, 2021
- I Know Why Matthew Rushin Said He Wished He Was Dead - June 9, 2020
I also completely understand this. I got into a car accident last fall– I braked to avoid a truck merging into my lane too close to me, and something happened(still no idea what) that made my car act like it was hydroplaning. The front end slewed around until I finally steered for the shoulder and hit the wall.
I was stuck there on the side of the road in my very totaled car(and I loved that car) and without a working phone. I had a bad meltdown. I’m lucky a passerby stopped to help and let me use her phone to call my mom. They called highway patrol too. And as they worked out towing the remains of my car, I was sobbing and repeating that I wanted to die.
These charges are absurd and unconscionable.
I’m a white mom with two mixed race daughters and I’ve been involved in racist stuff forever. My daughters are now ages 40 and 28. I never post anything about my life. Probably because I’m a not-officially diagnosed ASD person, but recently self tested and therapist tested. I don’t function very well, I’m just I’m starting to understand what autism actually is, I’ve never had a friend to talk with about things.
I’m might ramble a bit because I’m kinda stressed out today. I hope my comments don’t seem like a bit of a rant…
Ever since 1980, I’ve dealt with so many racial (and other) problems within the family and outside the family, such as schools, medical professionals, political issues, strangers in shopping malls (were you raped or is she really ‘yours’), and so on, It never stops, I’d have to write 1000 paragraphs or a book to cover it all.
The issues involve both racially motivated things as well as mental health issues, including autism, depression, anxiety, ADHD, various learning disabilities, and so on. It’s taken massive time and intervention on my part to address these issues over the years and to properly support my kids and to make sure they were treated fairly and to call people out on their inappropriate illegal, and shitty behaviours.
The school problems started in the mid-80s and didn’t improve all that much thru to when the 2nd kid graduated from high school in 2011, I’ll mention just a couple of issues.
In the early 90s, my 1st daughter came home one day crying because there was a big political push (in the Bay Area) to round up Hispanics and toss them over the border. She thought a van was following her and that she would be rounded up and never see me again. She is very multi cultural in appearance, and people often couldn’t tell what she is, African American, Mexican, Egyptian, Indian (from India), or other. At age 12, I had to take her to the DMV and get her a state ID to prove she was a citizen. She wanted to pin the ID to her shirt and it was very traumatizing for her. I have dozens of horrible stories about how she was treated by the school districts, classmates, her friends parents (after they saw her for the first time), and so on.
When she started elementary school in 1986, a teacher was racist to her and when I talked about it with the principal, she literally said. “I defend my school and my teachers to the death, we do no wrong,” then turned her back on me and left the room. I can still see her face and hear her saying that to me. How does one respond to that?
My 2nd daughter was diagnosed with several MH issues starting at age 9, but not diagnosed ASD until age 27 (and a lot of incorrect diagnoses along the way). There were about the same sorts of problems with schools and so on as with my 1st child. In high school (early 2000s), the ag teacher was openly racist towards black and brown skinned students–in the classroom. I documented it and raised the issue but the administration did nothing about it. The sort of outcome I had come to expect over the years. Just a couple of years ago, some idiot rammed my cart in Costco, looked at me and my daughter with disgust, and said some insulting racist things.
I had some close calls with my 2nd daughter and police/sheriff when she was driving as she has very severe panic attacks (she had some traffic light and speeding issues), which I now understand as meltdowns. She used to write
pages of lines of text saying she wished she was dead or wished she was never born. She still makes comments to
I still have to interview any contractor before hiring so I don’t see someone show up at my door with a KKK tattoo or shirt. I also had one fellow preach the bible to me for 1/2 hour because he thought I was a Buddhist and was therefore going to go to hell. At least he was polite about it. (I didn’t tell him about bardo.)
I had to initiate, organize, document, and generally manage all IEP’s from 1988 to 2011 as the various school districts refused to do it. Of course, towards the end, the public schools had no money and had pretty much let go all the IEP specialists, counselors, and special ed teachers.
We were almost tarred and feathered and ‘run out of town’ after the late 80’s federally ordered desegregation rule (San Jose Unified School District). I think it was the Gomez ruling, followed by the ‘Larry law’ but don’t exactly remember. We were hated for being a minority in a majority school, even thou we lived a few blocks from the school.
My dad was a Berkeley police officer in the 50s. I’m sure he toned down the stories he told me, but he used to pick up black guys after the Oakland police beat them and he would take them to the hospital. He eventually quit the force along with another office that he was friends with, because they would not join in some sort of a cover up, I never knew exactly what it was about. Not much change in policing since then.
Like everyone else my age, we grew up being horrified by racial injustice. Lynchings were shown on the evening news, and on and on. Mental health ‘issues’ that were common then, are only slightly better addressed today. The dad two houses down used to beat the heck out of his two kids and probably also the mom, I guess. I saw one beating in the front yard and ran home to tell my mom. She said that people don’t get involved in other family’s problems, a common attitude then. Holy cow! I could not make sense of her reply. Alice Miller really knows what she’s talking about regarding childhood trauma.
I only got started in computers because BART was federally ordered to hire women and minorities.
Racial issues and mental health issues need to be addressed, better funded, better education in the schools, and so on, because we’re still in this groundhog film sort of life, now a post-truth society. I had a funding suggestion related to racial and MH injustice in a post I put up a bit ago on one of the other articles about Matthew Rushin.
Not sure of these comments help anyone in any way, but I hope they do.
Thank you for writing this important article, Stephanie. Though I worked in the disabilities field (as a pediatric physical therapist, then in the state lead agency for the early intervention (Part C birth to 3) system, there is so much I am learning from autistic adults. I am grateful for you educating me and the world.