Steve and Jacquelyn Frank’s world crashed down around them with a knock on their door the morning of March 21, 2017.
Outside, two officers waited to tell the couple that their son had been in car crash on Highway 101 south of Santa Margarita early that morning. He was on his way to a two-alarm fire in Atascadero when his car drifted off the road, rolling and crashing into a tree.
Matthew Frank, known to thousands of fans across San Luis Obispo County as “SLOStringer,” was pronounced dead at the scene.
Two years later, the Frank family is still struggling to cope as they puzzle through a life without their only child and grapple with how to keep his memory alive.
“My wish is that he is not forgotten as long as possible,” Steven Frank said Tuesday, blinking back tears as he looked out a window overlooking the rolling Edna Valley hills below the Arroyo Grande home he shares with his wife.
Next to him sits a floor-to-ceiling wall of shelves filled with mementos of his son.
Mixed in with childhood treasures such as a much-loved teddy bear and a smiling school portrait rest remnants of Matthew Frank’s SLOStringer career: 11 books of posts and photos from his Facebook page, where he anonymously shared the latest public safety news of San Luis Obispo County; a county Sheriff’s Office badge awarded to his parents after his death; a fire helmet found at the scene of his fatal crash.
The wall was one of many ways the Franks have sought to preserve Matthew’s memory — but they have also found some solace in giving back to the community their son was so invested in.
“Everything we’ve done and everything we are doing is all about Matthew,” Jacquelyn Frank said on Tuesday. “It’s all about what he did as SLOStringer, and what he did as Matthew Frank.”
E-bike and scholarship donations
This week, the Frank family will finish donating close to $60,000 they have accumulated for emergency responders in San Luis Obispo County.
According to Jacquelyn Frank, a GoFundMe account was set up soon after Matthew’s death to pay for his funeral expenses without his parents’ knowledge. Though thankful, the Franks said they did not need financial help with his burial, and instead wanted the funds to be used to support local fire and police agencies.
The GoFundMe raised about $30,000, Jacquelyn Frank said, which the Franks matched. They transferred the money into an account to begin divvying it out where it was most needed.
Requests for funding soon started rolling in.
About $9,000 went to the Five Cities Fire Authority to pay for a skid mount that goes on the back of an ATV to help transport patients from the Oceano Dunes, she said.
The San Luis Obispo Police Department got a check for $8,000 to pay for communication equipment for the city’s SWAT vehicle, a drone and a software program that gives the department access to real-time cell phone records and location data.
The Morro Bay Fire Department received $7,500 to pay for firefighter and paramedic scholarships.
The largest chunk of the funds, however, was donated Aug. 8 to the SLO Benevolent and Emergency Relief (BEAR) fund, a nonprofit foundation established by the San Luis Obispo City Firefighters Association’s Local 3523 union.
The fund is meant to “support community needs, members of the public when tragedy strikes and firefighters when tragedy strikes at home while they’re actively serving the public,” according to an email from union secretary Nick Hoover.
The Franks’ $25,000 donation will buy four electric-assist mountain bikes, that will allow firefighters to quickly make their way to patients in open spaces such as Bishop Peak, Cerro San Luis and Johnson Ranch that are difficult to access by car, Hoover said.
“The Frank family will make that goal more attainable for firefighters, and we appreciate their donation very much,” Hoover wrote. “Our open space is becoming more popular every day, and the Frank family is helping make it safer.”
The bikes will all have the name “SLOStringer” written on them.
“It won’t bring Matthew back,” Jacquelyn Frank said of the donation. “But if (on) one of these e-bikes, they get up to the top of Bishop’s Peak or Madonna Mountain or behind Cal Poly or wherever, and it gets a paramedic to somebody and that results in a life being saved — well, it’ll make us happy that that money is being used for that.”
‘In silence and tears everywhere’
On Wednesday, the Franks will give the last of the assembled funds to the volunteer Santa Margarita Fire Department. That’s one of the most important donations from the family’s perspective because that department was the first on scene for Matthew Frank’s crash.
“We were told by so many that that was a nightmare for them all,” Jacquelyn Frank said. “They went about their business ... in silence and tears everywhere.”
She said the Santa Margarita Fire Department will get $6,000 to pay for equipment like handsaws and ventilation saws, fire hoses and department T-shirts.
Frank said that, after two years of trying, she was recently finally able to meet two of the firefighters who were on the scene of her son’s crash.
“I just had to give them a hug and tell them that I appreciated what they did, and it has not gone above Steven and I that it had to be just a horrible thing for them to endure,” she said.
“They did it with care,” Jacquelyn Frank added, wiping away the tears gathering on her cheeks. “And that was what I cared about: that my son was taken care of by people that loved him.”
At times over the past two years, Jacquelyn Frank said she felt the money from the GoFundMe was a burden — likening it to a weight on her shoulders that prevented her from being able to deal with what was happening.
But on Tuesday, she said she felt Matthew would have been proud of the legacy he left behind.
Moving forward, Jacquelyn Frank said that she and her husband are planning to play a large part in renovating a vintage San Luis Obispo fire truck their son acquired before he died.
According to Jacquelyn Frank, Matthew wanted to fix up the engine and use it at city events to inspire kids — something she and her husband are committed to helping raise money for in the future.
Though that’s on the horizon, Jacquelyn Frank said she is happy to finally be taking a moment to breathe.
“I feel like this brings closure,” she said, still clutching the bright red folder she kept two years worth of accumulated donation information in. “We’re glad to close this book, but it won’t be the end.”