VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. - Family, friends, and supporters of Matthew Rushin, a college student with autism, are demanding that Rushin be released from jail after a non-fatal car accident in January 2019.
They gathered Sunday morning at Mount Trashmore Park where they rallied and peacefully protested in solidarity with Black Lives Matter movement and autism awareness organizations.
"He was that kid that was doing right, a productive kid," Lavern Rushin, Matthew's mother, told News 3, as she described his demeanor before the start of the rally. "A young man that was doing right in our community."
Matthew was a mechanical engineering student at Old Dominion University. She said the color of his skin, autism, and authoritative abuse dealt with his fate.
Lavern said he is at a jail in Nottoway County and described the conditions his son is facing as abhorrent. She said Matthew's health stagnated as he has a cyst on his pituitary gland and is suffering from constant headaches.
"Everyday Matthew is behind bars, I'm behind bars," Lavern said. "Our family is behind bars, the community that loves Matthew is behind bars."
Matthew was leaving a parking lot and hit a car after picking up pastries at a Panera. Lavern said he may have been trying to grasp what happened because of his autism. Matthew turned back, but when he turned around he lost control and hit another car, according to the police investigation.
He was sentenced to 50 years for the crash, with 40 years suspended -- a crash she says was unintentional.
According to police reports, Rushin pled guilty on August 6, 2019. Police say if the case had gone to trial, evidence would have proven that Rushin struck another moving vehicle in a parking lot and did not stop. Police say Rushin fled the parking lot onto First Colonial Road, driving at a high rate of speed, which was captured on a store's surveillance camera.
"It's a terrible feeling to know that it wasn't an intentional crash and he's innocent," Lavern said. "He's sitting there enduing what he's enduring."
Now months later, the verdict being called unfair and condemned by family, friends, supporters, and organizations such as the NAACP and the Autism Society of Tidewater.
They marched along the path that outlines the lake at Mount Trashmore to make it known they stand with Matthew and Lavern. They held signs and shouted chants such as "Black Lives Matter" and "bring him home."
"We are fighting to bring him home," Lavern said.
Right now there is a petition to call on Governor Ralph Northam to look into the case, ask for certain charges to be dropped, and the sentence reduced. There is also a GoFundMe page to help the family with legal fees endured through the case.