It’s never easy to learn of a young person’s untimely death; it’s even harder when it’s someone with whom you had a personal connection — even if it was someone you had never actually met.
So it was with the recent passing of 30-year-old Matthew Frank, known to many as SLOStringer, an independent photographer and reporter who was followed on social media by tens of thousands of Central Coast residents.
Frank responded to fires, floods, accidents, car chases, landslides, ocean rescues, break-ins and arrests. He built a reputation for accuracy, timeliness and dedication that earned him the respect of local law enforcement and fire departments, as well as the gratitude of his followers.
“You are our eyes and ears … It saves us much worrying and wondering as parents and grandparents,” one couple posted on SLOStringer’s Facebook page.
Many of Frank’s dramatic photos chronicled heartbreaking stories of grief and loss.
“My hope is that these sights make someone reconsider their (potentially fatal) actions. Witnesses painted a picture that sounded 100% preventable,” he recently posted along with photos of a fatal accident.
Frank also captured moments of joy, pride and camaraderie; he photographed award ceremonies, the swearing-in of new officers and informal portraits of police and fire crews. He shared upbeat, quirky news — whether it was an emergency delivery of a baby or a bunch of scared ducklings rescued from a drainpipe.
His Facebook page brought people together; it served as a community forum where followers exchanged observations, advice, and expressed gratitude to first responders.
SLOStringer’s posts were respectful, helpful — he would warn folks of road closures, power outages and break-ins — and above all, demonstrated his appreciation of the tough and often dangerous work done by public safety officers. Just last month, for instance, Frank posted a memorial in honor of California Highway Patrol officers Rick Stovall and Britt Irvine, who died 19 years ago when their patrol car plunged off a section of a washed-out Highway 166 and landed in the swollen Cuyama River.
Frank was just 10 years old when the two officers died, yet he remembered the tragedy.
Frank, too, died on the job. He was headed to a house fire in Atascadero early Tuesday when, according to a statement his father posted on Facebook, his Chevy Tahoe hydroplaned off Highway 101, rolled, and hit a tree.
Matthew Frank didn’t want public recognition or bylines — many of his followers never even knew his name — yet thousands have been left shocked and saddened by his passing.
One mourner referred to him as a “superhero.” Another wrote, “I believe in Angels on this earth. Thank you God for sending this one.” Five Cities Fire Chief Steve Lieberman called him “one of our own.”
On behalf of The Tribune, we extend our condolences to Frank’s family, friends and followers. We salute Matthew Frank for providing such a valuable public service in such an unassuming way.
As many others have said, SLOStringer truly was an unsung hero.
SLOStringer memorial fund
A GoFundMe page has been set up in honor of Matthew Frank. The purpose of the fund hasn’t yet been determined. “Its proceeds will be chosen by Matt’s family after they have had time to grieve their son’s passing,” according to the page’s description. Visit http://bit.ly/2nNtG7Z.