Matthew Frank lived a double life.
To his fans, he was SLOStringer, a social media phenomenon who always seemed to catch breaking news just as it was happening. But to friends and family he was Matt, a quiet guy with a passion for motorcycles and helping others.
“We started calling him Bat-Matt,” said Todd Hall, comparing his longtime friend to the comic book superhero.
Frank, 30, died March 21 after his car crashed just over the Cuesta Grade on northbound Highway 101 while he was on his way to cover a house fire in Atascadero shortly before 4 a.m.
On Wednesday, Frank’s friends, family and Facebook followers honored him alongside members of fire, police and emergency agencies, whose work he highlighted. As SLOStringer, Frank chased fire and police emergencies, publishing information, photos and videos on Facebook and Twitter pages that were followed by thousands of people around the county. And he did that work for free.
About 300 people attended Frank’s memorial at Mountainbrook Church in San Luis Obispo, where first responders remembered him as one of their own. The service included a firefighters’ “last alarm” bell-ringing ceremony and a flyover by the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office’s Aero Squadron. Dozens of fire engines and tow trucks were parked outside the church in Frank’s honor.
“Matthew Steven Frank was an extraordinary man,” San Luis Obispo fire Chief Garret Olson said. “He captured our community — literally and figuratively.”
Olson compared spotting Frank at a scene or event to finding the ever-camouflaged book character “Where’s Waldo?” He remembered a time when a group of children saw Olson taking pictures at the scene of a fire and mistook him for Frank: “Three young boys ran up to me and asked, ‘Mister, mister, are you SLOStringer?’ ”
DJ Kingma, Frank’s best friend and San Luis Obispo High School classmate, said he enjoyed watching the SLOStringer persona evolve over time, beginning in high school and continuing even as he opened Sikmoto motorcycle repair shop in San Luis Obispo.
During high school, Kingma said, Frank kept scanners in his car to keep track of local goings-on. The two friends would sometimes spend nights cruising around, listening to the radio and keeping tabs on emergencies in the area, he said. He and Frank bought cameras at the same time and would frequently practice their photography skills together.
“It was so exciting to watch SLOStringer grow from its inception to what it became,” Kingma said.
Jacquelyn Frank, Matthew Frank’s mother, said her son didn’t seek the kind of attention he’s gotten after his death, but his family has nevertheless been touched by the “incredible outpouring of love.”
“I always have been proud to say I’m Matthew’s mom,” she said. “I’m most proud also to say I’m SLOStringer’s mom.”
Mourners continued their remembrances of Frank at a barbecue lunch held at the Madonna Inn Expo Center after the memorial.
Hall, the longtime friend, even revealed that Frank was the “concerned citizen” who painted over graffiti on the Union Pacific bridge crossing Highway 101 in January 2015. The bridge is owned by the railroad company, so the city had been unable to cover the four-letter word a vandal had painted on the side of the structure facing southbound traffic near California Boulevard.
Hall said it was Frank who decided to take matters into his own hands, covering the word with a splash of gray paint.
Some attendees said Frank had helped them during difficult times, such as feeding their pets after they’d been evacuated from their homes during the Chimney Fire in August.
Vivian Boaz, a firefighter for the Santa Margarita Volunteer Fire Department, said Frank’s coverage of her brother’s death in a motorcycle accident inspired her to follow his posts.
“I’m a little nervous, because God’s got one hell of a cameraman now,” she said.
SLOStringer Matthew Frank memorials