VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. - Matthew Rushin is exactly the kind of volunteer The Eliza Hope Foundation has been looking for; someone whom the children with special needs it supports can see themselves in.
"He's the kindest, sweetest [young man]," said Aimee Darby, the organization's founder and president.
But the 23-year-old is also a convicted felon.
On January 4, 2019, investigators say Rushin caused a series of crashes, including a head-on collision at a high rate of speed on First Colonial Road. Four people were injured that night, including one man seriously.
In August of that year, Rushin pleaded guilty to multiple felony charges after prosecutors said he was heard saying he was trying to kill himself. Rushin was sentenced to 50 years in prison for the crash, with 40 years suspended.
But his mother, Lavern, immediately called the investigation into question, maintaining her son did not intentionally injure anyone.
She says Rushin had a seizure related to his autism. She also says his alleged admission of attempted self-harm was a misunderstanding also related to his autism.
"He repeated what an angry man was saying, 'Are you trying to kill yourself?,'" she said. "It took this to happen for him to understand what his seizures can do."
Lavern Rushin's persistence in fighting what she saw as an unfair conviction gained a massive following and last March, her son was released from prison following a conditional pardon from Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam.
"It's been just beautiful, life with him back home," she told News 3 on Saturday. "We hope one day to just be able to totally heal from this and that's why we're seeking a full exoneration."
Rushin, who didn't want her son speaking on camera over concerns memories of the crash could be a trigger, says Matthew is hoping to start over in a new city with no criminal record.
She's contacted the governor's office, other politicians including Del. Glenn Davis and has even had conversations with celebrities like Tamron Hall, Jamie Lee Curtis and Tina Knowles all in the hopes of getting Northam's signature once again before he leaves office on January 15.
"I've been spreading the word within our community, for sure, and actually Dr. Northam...Governor Northam was Eliza's first neurologist at CHKD so I have this special place in my heart for him," said Darby. "I think it's going to happen. I really do."
If it doesn't, Lavern Rushin says she'll be in contact with Governor-elect Glenn Youngkin's office after he's sworn in.
"We've had bipartisan support from the very beginning and, yes, I will be pushing it," she said.