Matthew Messina

On June 16, 2003, Sam and Jan Messina’s lives changed forever.

That was the day their oldest child and their only son – Matthew Messina was killed by a hit and run drunk driver in Chico, California.  He was 25 years old.

“As parents we suffered the worst possible nightmare except it was true. We are not the same people we were on June 16, 2003, and will never go back to being those people for the rest of our lives.  Our future was robbed of our only son, and all the potential his life offered. No amount of grieving or time will heal the wound that a drunk driver inflicted on us and our family”.

Matt was born and raised in Bethlehem, New York, outside of Albany.  He had moved to California six months before his death to complete his college education at Chico State College.

He could not afford a car. So, like many college age young adults in town, he used his bicycle for transportation.

Matt was riding in a 25-mph speed zone when a drunk driver hit him and left him to die on the pavement. The car knocked Matt 80 feet in the air. The driver, a 31 year old woman with three children, stopped the car to see what she had done, panicked and left the scene.

She hid out for a year before she was finally arrested. She admitted drinking vodka and beer that day, and returning home from a 10:30 p.m. “beer run” when she hit and killed Matthew. The driver served less than two years in prison for Matt’s death and has since been released from prison.

“We will never know what Matt would have contributed to society, and will always feel the loss of our son,” the Messina’s said. “Family occasions, holidays and other celebrations, instead of being totally joyous will be bittersweet because we will always miss Matt’s presence”.

Matt had potential for greatness. Before his death, he attended military school at Norwich University in Vermont for three years. He joined the U.S. Marines as a Reservist, and held a variety of jobs such as short order cook, warehouse employee and sales of various products and services.

But the position he held last before leaving for California was a day care center teacher. While working at the day care center Matt became the primary aide for a 3 year old boy with Cerebral Palsy. The boy could not speak, walk or feed himself. Matt and little Justin became inseparable.

This work was Matt’s calling,” his parents explained. “We know he loved his work, and would have connected it to the degree he planned to obtain at Chico State.

Matt was a young man who had much more real life experience than the average person his age who followed the more traditional path of high school, college, degree and job. The experience Matt gained while holding a variety of jobs, his Marine duty, and the experience in day care centers, especially with Justin, all contributed to molding him into a compassionate man.

He had a plan to serve people in his future. But that future never came.

As his parents, we saw him grow from a somewhat self-centered, immature, rebellious teen, into a caring gentle and focused young man he was on the night of  June 17, 2003,” the Messina’s said.

Matt’s two sisters, Tracy and Valerie, have suffered as well. As young women in their 20s, they will have to spend the rest of their lives without their big brother.

“This is an immeasurable loss emotionally, since both girls relied on Matt for advice and support,” said the parents. “Who do they go to now? They had a relationship that cannot be replaced by any other person. We are all at a loss forever.”

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New York’s STOP-DWI program is the Nations’ first and, to date, only self-sustaining impaired driving program. Other States have implemented components of self-sufficiency, but none to the degree of New York State.