Carrie Taylor often told her teenage son to drive safely and to call if he needed a ride.
On Tuesday, the first day of an emotional trial about who’s responsible when teens drink illegally, Taylor recounted a series of text messages she had with her 18-year-old son on the last day of his life.
Charles Matthews, a Raleigh-based neurologist, and his wife, Kimberley, are on trial in Wake County Superior Court, accused of aiding and abetting underage drinking that led to a fatal wreck.
Jonathon Gregory Taylor had graduated from Ravenscroft School in summer 2014 and was preparing for college in fall.
On June 29, Jonathon Taylor called his mother while she was out and asked where his nice clothes were.
He had just been invited to a wedding at the Matthewses’ home. Their daughter was getting married that day, and Thomas Matthews, a friend of Jonathon Taylor’s, had extended a last-minute invitation to several friends to join the family in what should have been a celebratory event.
What happened instead turned the lives of two families and a group of friends upside down. More than a year later, they remain wracked with grief, and the Matthewses are fighting criminal charges.
Jonathon Taylor never made it home that night.
Despite an appeal by Kimberley Matthews to stay at their home, Taylor left the wedding party inebriated. He wrecked the 2008 BMW he was driving about 7 miles from the Matthews family’s Vance Street home, on Hunting Ridge Road in North Raleigh. Law enforcement officers suspect Taylor, or “JT” as he was known among friends, was going 89 mph when the car left the road and landed against a tree.
Taylor did not survive the single-car wreck. His blood-alcohol level, according to court documents, was about 21/2 times the 0.08 threshold for impairment.
“He paid the ultimate price,” Wake County Assistant District Attorney Jason Waller said in opening statements. “This trial is about the Matthewses and what they did that night to allow this to happen.”
The jury will be left to decide, Waller said, whether the couple could have done anything to “put a stop” to what happened.
Hart Miles, the Raleigh attorney representing the couple, has described the prosecution as “malicious” and “selective.”
Thomas Matthews, the 19-year-old who invited Taylor to the wedding, pleaded guilty in Wake County Superior Court on Monday to purchasing a fifth of Jack Daniel’s whiskey while underage. None of the caterers nor the ABC clerk who sold him the whiskey faces criminal charges. The clerk initially was charged, but the district attorney’s office dismissed the case.
Taylor was among a small group of teens who shared the fifth, but they did so in a neighbor’s yard outside the presence of the parents. The teens also testified to drinking wine at the wedding, but added that at no time did the Matthewses condone what they were doing or stop and talk with them much.
Text messages among two teenage girls in the group and Thomas Matthews and Jonathon Taylor detail their plans to drink alcohol that night. But the girls testified they had planned to spend the night or call parents to pick them up so they would not be driving drunk.
The Matthewses face four counts of aiding and abetting the underage consumption of alcohol by minors.
The couple, Miles said, “were targeted very early in the investigation. JT Taylor’s death was a tragedy. This investigation was an emotional response to that tragedy.”
In tearful testimony during the first day of a trial expected to last several days, Carrie Taylor described her son’s last words to her as he got ready to go to the wedding.
“He said, ‘I love you, mama,’” Carrie Taylor recalled, wiping away tears.
At 6:15 p.m., Jonathon Taylor sent a selfie to his mother, a photo of him in his dressy blue shirt and blue bowtie. Blue was his favorite color.
“Hey maaaa I’m getting married!” he wrote.
His mother sent a text back stating he looked handsome and: “Call me if you need a ride later, Love Momma.”
Jonathon Taylor sent texts to his mother several more times; one read: “I’m sleeping over there YOLO.”
Greg Taylor had to explain to his wife that YOLO is text-speak for “You only live once.”
At 10:16 p.m., shortly after Carrie and Greg Taylor had gotten ready for bed, another text arrived.
“Can y’all pick me up,” Jonathon Taylor asked his mother.
“Yes, where are you?” Carrie Taylor responded one minute later.
At 10:20 p.m., her phone pinged with another text message, stating he was at Thomas Matthews’ house.
Greg Taylor, who doesn’t drink and said he had tried to impress upon his son the dangerous consequences of consuming too much alcohol, got up, dressed and headed toward the Matthewses’ home. He waited as the wedding party broke up, sending a series of texts to his son.
“I’m outside,” he texted three times.
“Let’s go,” Greg Taylor messaged his son at 10:54 p.m.
Worried after not receiving a response, Greg Taylor, a state trooper since 1999, drove up and down roads, hunting for his son.
At 11:31 p.m., he texted: “I really need to hear from you. Call or text immediately.”
Greg Taylor said he was acquainted with the Matthewses only through his son’s school. “I’m only a trooper, he’s a doctor,” Taylor said from the stand Tuesday. “That’s where I fit in that scheme.”
At some point, Greg Taylor picked up his wife, and they were in the car together when they came across a wreck scene with yellow police tape and flashing blue lights.
Neither wanted to believe it was their son, but they soon found that Jonathon Taylor had died in the wreck.
“I’ll never forget Carrie saying, ‘John’s dead,’” Greg Taylor recalled in a quiet courtroom. “That’s a haunting thing to hear your wife say.
“John was my only son, my only child.”
Anne Blythe: 919-836-4948