Jesse Matthew, who’s wanted for questioning in connection with the disappearance of UVA student Hannah Graham, is still missing, and he’s become the subject of considerable talk in the town where he grew up. Police say he has no record of violent crime, but reporter Hawes Spencer has been asking around and has come up with some intriguing information. We talked with Spencer about one particular incident.
"Oh, my god, that's him?" asks Eric Wilke, a Charlottesville lawyer who was allegedly assaulted by Jesse Leroy Matthew Jr. five years ago.
"I honestly didn't even remember his name," says Wilke, who relates what he says happened on the evening of June 4, 2009. That was long before UVA student Hannah Graham disappeared and long before Matthew, the last known person to interact with her, became the subject of a manhunt.
Wilke, whom a reporter found in his downtown office, says the trouble started around 10pm on weeknight while he was driving to his girlfriend's house in the vicinity of Jefferson Park Avenue. He says that a minivan taxi suddenly veered front of him as he was turning. Wilke says he honked, and the driver stopped, blocked his path, and refused to budge.
"If you're not going move, then I guess I have to call the police," Wilke says he told Matthew.
Matthew then allegedly snatched the phone from his hands, Wilke says. So Wilke exited his vehicle-- only to get punched in the face, he says.
Wilke contends that no sooner had the violence ended that his aggressor suddenly became contrite and remorseful. And Matthew returned the phone and drove him to the hospital, where, Wilke says, he received two stitches to close a cut on the inside of his lip.
Matthew allegedly told Wilke that he had been feeling angry about getting stiffed by two fares that night and that he was sorry for what he'd done.
"He seemed depressed, maybe even suicidal," says Wilke, who says he felt sympathy for his alleged attacker.
Nonetheless, Wilke says, he decided that the best way to ensure payment of his medical bill was filing a criminal complaint. Charlottesville General District Court records show that Matthew was charged with assault and attempted grand larceny, the latter presumably in reference to the iPhone.
Wilke says he recalls getting contacted subsequently by then Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Claude Worrell and asked if he minded dropping the charges.
"I was really only concerned about not getting stuck with the hospital bill," says an amenable. Wilke.
He says the minivan bore the logo of Access Taxi. A former driver for that company, who asked not be named, confirms that Matthew was driving for Access then in a gold minivan.
"They were about 20 of those vans on the road back then," says the source, who says that the company eventually went out of business.
Concerned about "piling on" Matthew, then the target of a widespread police search for questioning in the case of the missing 18-year-old, declined to give an audio account. And Matthew, wanted at the time of this interview only a pair of unrelated reckless driving charges, could not be reached for comment.
"All this proves is that he had a bad temper five years ago," says Wilke. "He showed remorse almost immediately. Going on audio is just going to add to this dynamic of suspicion without probable cause."
A check of local court records indicates that Matthew, while no strange to police, has a generally benign rap sheet, consisting primarily of driving infractions and other low-level vehicular infractions. One exception was his 2010 arrest at an auto repair shop.
In that case, Matthew was found guilty of trespassing after he refused to leave the premises of Buck's Auto Repair after angrily demanding his money back for car repairs that didn't satisfy him. The arrest warrant indicates that a shop employee called 911, and a witness claims that Matthew was "cussing and carrying on."
Witness Stella L. White says that Matthew countered by swearing out an assault warrant on shop owner Charles Dudley, an action Dudley attributes to his slamming an oil dipstick down on Matthew's car. While Dudley was found not guilty, Matthew was fined $50 plus $268 for the cost of his court-appointed attorney.
UPDATE: On Tuesday, September 23, Charlottesville Police announced that they charged Matthew with abduction with intent to defile. Matthew was arrested the following day in Galveston, Texas.