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Deadly crash victim's family addresses killer at sentencing hearing

Becky Campbell • Updated Sep 9, 2018 at 12:04 AM

A local judge said she agreed with a mother and grandmother who called a Unicoi County man a “cold, heartless coward” during his sentencing hearing last week after he pleaded guilty to a vehicular homicide that killed their daughter/granddaughter last year.

The hearing took place Wednesday in Jonesborough. Matthew Robinson, 25, formerly of 1126 E. Erwin Road, pleaded guilty to vehicular homicide by intoxication.

The fatal crash happened Oct. 15 shortly after 11 p.m. on Tenn. Highway 81 near Beals Flat Road. The plea deal was for him to serve 12 years in prison, and it was consecutive to a 10-year sentence he’s serving out of Unicoi County on unrelated convictions.

Robinson was driving the 2013 Kia Rio that belonged to 21-year-old Emily Lipson when he ran off the right side of the road, hit an embankment, went airborne and started to roll and flip before landing on the Kia’s top in the middle of the road.

Robinson was either thrown from the car or crawled out under his own power while Lipson was left hanging upside down in the car. According to court records, Lipson apparently survived the crash and remained strapped in by her seatbelt but suffocated because she was left in the mangled car.

THP Trooper Joe Lunceford arrived about 11:15 p.m. to find Robinson unresponsive and lying outside the vehicle. Lipson’s body was still restrained in the passenger side of the vehicle. In a court record, Lunceford said he found several alcohol containers in the vehicle. Investigators later determined Robinson had a .12 blood alcohol content as well as illegal drugs in his system.

According to the report, Robinson was wearing his seatbelt at the time of the crash, but he was either thrown from the vehicle or he crawled away.

During the sentencing hearing, Criminal Court Judge Lisa Rice listened to emotional victim statements from Lipson’s mother, Stephanie Lipson, and her grandmother, Margaret Swiney. Neither woman held back when telling Robinson the infinite damage he had caused their family and what they thought of him as a person.

Both described Emily as someone who was caring and a fierce defender of her younger brother. She loved animals and wanted to study forensics, her mother said.

Stephanie Lipson started her statement with the same two words she ended it with.

“Absolutely not,” Lipson said as she began reading her statement. “Those were my exact words to Emily when she told me she wanted to start a relationship with you. I had heard about you for many years from other people .... your reputation for trouble, your temper, your run-ins with law enforcement. I didn’t want her to have anything to do with you, and I stood my ground. Unfortunately, so did she.”

Lipson said her daughter wore her down to the point she agreed to meet Robinson and give him a chance, but that never happened because Robinson wrecked and killed her daughter.

The grieving mother said she knew Robinson wouldn’t care about anything she said on Wednesday because he laughed the first time they saw each other the first time he was in court after his arrest.

Lipson said her daughter always wanted to see the good in people, and because of that, she was dead.

“This is the point at which I’m supposed to say that even though Emily is gone, and even though our lives will never be the same, I forgive you for what you did to her. But I guess I’m not the person I’d like to be because I don’t forgive you. I don’t want to forgive you because forgiving means forgetting, and I will never forget. Absolutely not.”

Swiney started her prepared statement with all the lovable nicknames for her granddaughter.

“Emily Jane Lipson. Emily-Poo, Emily-Pie, sweetheart, princess, my baby,” she said. “Thanks to your selfishness and irresponsibility, my precious 21-year-old granddaughter is dead. There were many, many things taken away from Emily and our family the night you killed her. And yet, at the same time there are many things you have given us.”

Swiney went through a long list of things her family now experience since the night Emily Lipson died — sleepless nights, nightmares, stabbing pain when they see a little silver car in traffic, a new significant date for their family calendar, a lifetime of what-ifs and if-onlys and empty seat at the dinner table and at every holiday.

“In your drug- and alcohol-induced stupor, you probably don’t even remember that night. Even now, you probably don’t remember what Emily looked like. If it was within my power, her face would be branded to the inside of your eyelids so you would have to see her every time you closed your eyes.”

Swiney told Robinson that their family will always remember her granddaughter.

“We will remember that she deserved so much better than you. We will remember the person she said loved her was the one who left her to die on a dark, cold, lonely road in the middle of nowhere. We will always remember and love Emily Jane Lipson. May God have mercy on your soul.”

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