WEST WARWICK, R.I. (WPRI) — “Funny, tenacious, loud… he could be the life of the party.”
That’s how Mark Dennison described his 17-year-old son Matthew, who died on March 10 after he and his teammate, and best friend, Kevin MacDonald, were in a car crash involving an alleged drunk driver.
Hockey. That was what bonded Matt and his father, and it all started when he was just 3 years old.
“We took him to a public skating session and we strapped some skates on him and I carried him between my legs,” Mark remembered. “When he was 4 years old he started to learn to play hockey and from there it just took off.
Matt was recently named First-Team All-Division, and his father said he played the game well.
“Matt was leading the state in scoring when the accident happened, and he had a 6-point lead over the next competitor,” he recalled. “I am positive Matt would have held that lead through the end of the year.”
Feb. 12 was the night Matt’s parents got the phone call they never wanted to get.
“So Matt and Kevin were returning from a prospect day with a junior organization in Norwich, Connecticut. About two minutes before 9 p.m. I asked Katie [Matt’s sister] to call Matt and see where he was,” Mark recalled. “I heard her say ‘hey where are you?’ and she said ‘what?’ and she said ‘what?’ again and then she said ‘Dad I lost him.’ So with today’s technology, I could see his location on Katie’s phone and we saw he was on Route 165 in Exeter.”
“At 9:18 p.m. I got a call from my wife, Brenda, she was hysterical, crying, and said Matt was in a bad accident,” Mark continued. “And that’s when our nightmare began, 27 days.”
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Mark said they lost track at a dozen surgeries, but Matt had about 15 or 16 surgeries in his 27 days in the hospital.
“Four days before he passed, we knew. We wouldn’t say it to each other but we knew that was most likely the time where his body just decided it could not come back,” Mark said. “They came to us on that Tuesday and told us clearly, that it was time to consider letting Matt go. Which was extremely difficult.”
One day a few years ago, Mark said every night, instead of a hug and a kiss goodnight and saying I love you, Matt started something new.
“He would come up to me and shake my hand and say ‘Goodnight Sir’ and that was our thing,” Mark explained. “And right before I left that room the night he passed, I took his hand, and kissed him on the forehead, and my last words to him were ‘Goodnight Sir.'”
Matt was the captain of the West Warwick/Exeter-West Greenwich (WWEWG) high school hockey team. He and his father spent a lot of time in the rink where they played.
“A lot of great memories. He had a lot of highlight-type moments out on that ice and it does bring back so many great memories,” Mark said.
The last time Mark was in their locker room was on senior night with the whole team. Matt’s locker still looked the same with all of his stuff inside and his name tag with the word “captain” beneath it.
“He worked his whole short life to get that title and it meant the world to him and it meant the world to me,” Mark said. “I can’t think of a better thing to do than to leave it here for Matt and his team.”
The WWEWG hockey team put plexiglass over Matt’s locker at the West Warwick ice rink and the stall with his equipment still in it. It will now stay that way forever, just the way Matt left it after the last time he skated with his team.
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Alexander Krajewski, a North Kingstown man who works as a Newport firefighter, was driving the car that hit Matt and Kevin.
He was arraigned last month on upgraded charges of driving under the influence of liquor or drugs resulting in death and driving to endanger resulting in death.
Krajewski was initially charged with two counts of driving under the influence resulting in serious bodily injury and driving to endanger resulting in personal injury.
He was released on bail and ordered not to drive.
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Mark is hoping that his son’s death wasn’t in vain.
“There needs to be some changes to some laws that have not changed in decades, and there are far too many of these instances, especially this year,” Mark said. “Matt’s not the only 17-year-old that has passed this year from this terrible, terrible thing.”
“Everybody knows the dangers of driving under the influence … whatever the legislators need from me, they’ve got a partner in me,” he continued. “I’m just asking they take a serious hard look at these laws and they make some meaningful changes … we need to deter people from taking these actions. There is very little punishment for the people that do these things, and they are crimes, so we need to address them accordingly.”