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So many questions, still no answers for Fortune, N.L. mother whose son died after bar altercation in Alberta

Donna Foote has created a memory wall at her home in Fortune for her son, Jeff Matthews, who died following an altercation at a bar in Medicine Hat, Alta., one year ago Monday.
Donna Foote has created a memory wall at her home in Fortune for her son, Jeff Matthews, who died following an altercation at a bar in Medicine Hat, Alta., one year ago Monday. - Paul Herridge

A year of pain and grief

FORTUNE, N.L. —

Donna Foote mutes the television and settles back into a chair at her dining room table. 

A song by rock band AC/DC had been playing on YouTube, one of her son’s favourite groups. 

“That’s what I’ve caught myself doing a lot here lately, honestly, just thinking about him,” she says. 

A little over a year ago, The Southern Gazette sat down in the same setting, Foote’s Fortune home, to discuss the tragic circumstances surrounding the death of her son, Jeff Matthews, in Alberta. 

It was pouring then. 

The weather outside on this day, Wednesday, June 19, was totally opposite, however – blue skies, sunny and warm. 

Jeff Matthews - Contributed
Jeff Matthews - Contributed

Not that it matters for Foote. Life will never be the same, she says.

“Everything just changed. Our lives now, like nothing means anything anymore,” she says. 

“You hear people say (about grieving), ‘Well, the sun shines, but the sun’s not really shining,’ and that’s how it is. It’s a beautiful, bright day, but yet you’ve got this gloom and the thought of knowing where he is and for what reasons he’s where he is. 

“It just brings all of us down. It just kind of leaves us under this big, grey cloud all of the time, you know, and it’s hard to deal with, very hard to deal with.” 

Altercation at bar

Matthews died in a Calgary hospital on June 24, 2018, one year ago Monday, following a physical altercation at a bar in Medicine Hat early on the morning of June 21, during which Foote was told he suffered a cracked skull and internal bleeding. 

He was 38.

Four British soldiers who had been training at Canadian Forces Base Suffield, north of Medicine Hat, were identified as suspects. Their training had apparently concluded, however, and they had departed for the United Kingdom on June 25. 

At that point, the Medicine Hat Police Service’s investigation into the incident was only just beginning. In a news release at the time, they called the death “suspicious.”

For the last 12 months, Foote has been seeking answers – and justice for her son – but it’s been an arduous road with little in the way of major developments.

According to Foote, the medical examiner’s autopsy report will play a major role in what happens next.

“It’s frustrating because there’s no closure. We’ve got so many questions with no answers,” she says. 

“It’s not going to take away the hurt, but it’ll help us deal a little bit better and cope a little bit better once we know for sure what’s what.” 

Losing a child 

The past year has been an incredibly difficult one for Foote and her family. 

Matthews, who grew up in Grand Bank, spent most of his years after graduating high school working out west but was planning a move back to the Burin Peninsula to be closer to his daughter, now eight, at the time of his death. 

There’s no way for a parent to prepare for losing a child, Foote says. You have plans and hopes for them, and look forward to their futures. When those dreams vanish in an instant, it’s devastating. 

“We still don’t know how to deal with it on a daily basis, as in to be able to function normally because the new normal that you would take on, we haven’t reached that point. The acceptance is not even there yet,” she explains.

“It’s traumatic to all of us.”

"We still don’t know how to deal with it on a daily basis," — Donna Foote

Matthews’ daughter, Jada Lynn, provides some comfort and is a constant reminder of her father. 

“It kind of keeps us going a little bit, knowing that we’ve got her,” Foote says. 

“He definitely lives on through her. I mean, she is so much like him. She’s unreal. His ways, his laugh, his every action that he had, just little things that he’d do with his hands. She’s right off the sod.” 

Clinging to memories

It was nine months before Foote felt she was mentally and emotionally able to return to her job. 

Memories, photos and clothing belonging to Jeff also offer a measure of solace, she says. 

Bright, sunny days have no meaning since her son’s death, according to Donna Foote, who says the past year for her family has been like living under a big cloud all the time. - Paul Herridge
Bright, sunny days have no meaning since her son’s death, according to Donna Foote, who says the past year for her family has been like living under a big cloud all the time. - Paul Herridge

“I hear certain songs that he and I would probably sing while he was playing guitar, and the memories of him being the jokester that he was, certain things that he would do, the humourous personality that he had. He could make a cat laugh,” Foote says.

“I wear his t-shirts. I keep his picture under my pillow every night. I talk to him every day. I just talk to him every day. The reality of that sometimes gets a little overwhelming. It kind of takes you over in a way, you know?”

She never makes it through a day without tears.

“There’s always that little break of reality where it smacks you in the face and then the water starts,” she says.

Family needs closure 

Foote says she often finds herself looking for a phone call from her son or rereading Facebook messages they shared. He never missed a call on Mother’s Day and her birthday. 

Those were tough days this year.

“Mudder,” she says, laughing through tears, he called her. 

“I call his voice mail lots of times, just to hear his voice on his voice mail. That gets me through sometimes,” Foote says. 

“I just want closure. We just want answers. We, as a family, just need answers.”

She remains steadfast in her determination to find justice for her son. Perhaps, more so. A year may have gone by and that might seem like a long period to some, she says, but not for her family.

“To us, it’s only like yesterday. It’s like no time has passed.”

paul.herridge@southerngazette.ca 


The investigation

Staff Sgt. Chad Holt with the Medicine Hat Police Service’s major crimes section told The Southern Gazette last July that Jeff Matthews’ death was categorized as suspicious.

“We haven’t classified it as manslaughter or anything. We need some information back from our medical examiner, the person that does the autopsy,” he said at the time.

The wait for that information continues 12 months on, according to Matthews’ mother, Donna Foote. 

Foote, who has stayed in regular contact with the police service as well as the medical examiner, says the police have done their legwork, but everything is basically on hold until then.

Both the police and the medical examiner have been very cooperative, she says. 

When the results are ready, she was told the report will first go to the police, and once their investigation is completed fully, she can get a copy.

“It’s a long time to be waiting. It’s too long,” she told The Southern Gazette. 

Foote says the four soldiers from the United Kingdom involved in the altercation at the bar have since been questioned.

She’s anxiously awaiting a call to let her know the autopsy results have been passed to police. 

If it confirms that Matthews’ death was a result of the altercation, she hopes the next steps will lead to justice being served. 

The Southern Gazette reached out to Staff Sgt. Holt for an update on the investigation but he was unavailable.


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