Why We’re Here: Matt Dawson

On May 31, 1999, 18-year-old Matt Dawson was at a field party with his girlfriend. Since he had a 1:00 a.m. curfew and his girlfriend didn’t have to be home until 2:00, he decided to catch a ride home with a group of friends headed to a store near his house.

They were traveling at an estimated 89 miles per hour when they crashed just a few blocks away from Matt’s house. Both Matt and the driver were not wearing seatbelts and were ejected from the car. The other three people in the car, including the driver, were injured, but survived.  Matt was killed.

“As parents, as a family, we will never be the same as we were on that date,” Matt’s mother Laura Dawson said.

Matt was a friend to everyone and only saw the good in people. He considered everyone a friend and was always willing to help anyone in need.  Matt was a Black Belt in Tae Kwon Do, and occasionally taught classes. He loved music and was a great artist. 

However, Matt’s death wasn’t the first brush with drunk driving tragedy for the Dawson’s. Matt was actually the second of three cousins in his family killed in drunk driving crashes:

  • Tim Dawson – killed in 1976 in Mississippi
  • Matt Dawson – killed in 1999 in Virginia
  • Stephanie Ward Stahl – killed in 2012 in West Virginia

Laura says that her family’s experience with so much devastation because of drunk driving has made the family closer, “but shows that no family is immune.”

In Matt’s case, the driver, whose BAC was .212, was convicted of involuntary manslaughter and sentenced to six months in jail.

After the trial, Laura began volunteering for MADD and later became a certified victim advocate so she could provide assistance and support for other families impacted by drunk driving.  She also served as leader of her local MADD chapter in Virginia. She continues to shares Matt’s story at MADD victim impact panels, and school and community events.