Sunday, May 24, 2009, was a busy day at the Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area.
Jovial revelers packed the state park near Pismo Beach during the crowded Memorial Day weekend, and injuries were common as the hundreds of visitors rode throughout the sandy dunes on ATVs.
In their midst was 24-year-old Christopher Meadows, a volunteer EMT with the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office’s Search and Rescue team.
On that busy day, looking down the barrel of a long Central Coast summer, Meadows didn’t know what would happen next.
He didn’t know that a fatal accident would spur his family to devote their lives to supporting a new crop of emergency responders in his memory.
“It’s a nightmare to lose a child,” Chris’ father, Tim Meadows, told The Tribune via phone on May 3, a few weeks before the 10th anniversary of his son’s death. “The biggest fear after that happens is that the child will be forgotten because they aren’t there any longer.”
Thanks to his family’s efforts, Chris hasn’t been forgotten, though.
Chris Meadows’ name appears on a sign marking a stretch of Highway 101 between Madonna Road and San Luis Bay Drive, and a Study Abroad scholarship and a memorial bench at Cal Poly. His name also graces two Sheriff’s Office vehicles — a Lake Nacimiento patrol boat and a search-and-rescue Humvee — and an annual award from the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office’s Search and Rescue team.
But most importantly, it appears on a scholarship fund that has to date given out more than $110,000 to students pursuing emergency medical services careers like Chris.
“We couldn’t have conceived of it in our wildest dreams,” Tim Meadows said of the efforts to keep Chris’ memory alive. “We didn’t realize what staying power Chris’s legacy would have.”
Out of tragedy, a purpose
Chris Meadows, a 2007 Cal Poly graduate and Cuesta College-certified EMT, was working that fateful May 2009 day, his father said.
He’d already been on duty the previous day, but the growing crowds were keeping strapped emergency responders running throughout the large park, responding to calls for injuries.
Chris volunteered for a Sunday shift to help out.
He was killed later that day when his ATV crested a hill on the way to a call for a broken leg. As Chris went over the dune, one he had gone over many times the day before, his ATV rolled.
An ambulance following closely behind hit the ATV, while Chris was trapped beneath it.
A Sheriff’s Office autopsy concluded that Chris was killed immediately when his ATV rolled. He likely did not feel the second hit of the ambulance.
Learning of their son’s death was understandably traumatic for Tim Meadows and his wife, Mardy Meadows — he described it as a “parent’s worst nightmare” — but while writing Chris’ obituary, an idea came to them.
“A coworker of his said, ‘Why don’t you create a scholarship fund?’ ” Meadows recalled. “In the fog of that dark time, we were like, ‘OK.’ ”
The Christopher Meadows Memorial EMS Education Fund has to date given out $110,000 worth of scholarships to 51 Central California students pursuing EMS careers.
The money for the scholarship is raised partly from donors in the Bay Area, where the Meadows family lives, Tim Meadows said, but mostly from San Luis Obispo County.
“It’s been possible because of the incredible generosity of particularly the SLO County community that Chris was a part of,” Meadows said. “The Bay Area doesn’t have the same community spirit that you have in San Luis Obispo.”
The Christopher Meadows Memorial EMS Education Fund offers three classes of scholarships, Tim Meadows said.
First is a $750 scholarship to pay for the costs of seeking EMT credentials.
Meadows said Chris initially went to Cal Poly to study business, but partway through realized that he “wanted to pursue something to help other people.”
So Chris enrolled in Cuesta College’s EMT credential program. He received his credential in 2006, Meadows said, and soon after began working with San Luis Ambulance.
The second class of scholarship is a $3,000 scholarship for people pursuing careers as paramedics. According to Meadows, after receiving the keys to Chris’ car after his accident on the Dunes, he and his wife found two unmailed applications to paramedic programs in the car along with Chris’ other effects.
The third, and newest, class is a $3,000 “advanced” scholarship to people working as EMTs or paramedics who want to advance their careers in the medical field.
One of the first recipients of this was San Luis Obispo paramedic Hilary Wolf, a close friend of Chris’.
“Christopher and I were actually hired by San Luis Ambulance as new EMTs together nearly 13 years ago,” Wolf wrote in an email to The Tribune on Thursday. “Being a part of the San Luis Ambulance family, I was friends with Christopher and aware of the scholarship soon after its creation.”
Wolf was an EMT until 2009, when she became a paramedic. She’s worked as a paramedic since that time, but with the help of the scholarship is currently finishing nursing school.
She’s expected to graduate from the Cuesta College nursing program and become a registered nurse on May 24 — exactly 10 years to the day after Chris’s death.
When asked what she would like to say to the Meadows family, Wolf wrote: “Thank you for allowing me to carry Christopher’s legacy on. I am truly honored to have received the scholarship in his memory, and will serve his memory proudly as I work as a nurse.”
A memorial gala
The scholarship fund isn’t the only way the Meadows family is keeping Chris’ memory alive.
They will host the 10th annual Christopher Meadows Memorial Memorial Gala in Atascadero on Saturday, as a way to bring together donors, scholarship recipients and the community.
It’s an afternoon cocktail party at the Pavilion on the Lake that lasts from 3 to 6 p.m. The free event will feature cocktails, wine and live jazz entertainment.
Meadows said about 250 people have already registered to attend. (To register, go to https://www.eventbrite.com/e/10th-anniversary-christopher-meadows-memorial-gala-tickets-57753582520.)
“It gives us goosebumps — it’s so humbling that we’ve had the support we’ve had,” Tim Meadows said of the response. “It’s quite humbling. We had no idea where this was going to go.”
“Losing our son definitely changed the trajectory of lives completely,” he added.