SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. (CN) — Whenever a late-night car accident, fire or natural disaster hit San Luis Obispo County, residents turned to the well-known, but anonymous SLOStringer’s Facebook page for details. On Tuesday, they learned his name — because he died in a crash as he headed to cover a fire just before 4 a.m.
An amateur reporter with a flexible day job and a reliable police scanner, Matthew Frank, the SLOStringer, got up at all hours to photograph police and fire calls, often posting his breaking news before professional journalists awoke.
So when early morning commuters to San Luis Obispo saw the gnarled remnants of a wrecked SUV along Highway 101 on Tuesday, many pulled up the SLOStringer site as soon as they got to the office.
But there were no photos or details.
As Frank drove along Highway 101 to cover a structure fire at around 3:50 a.m., his 2009 Chevrolet Tahoe left the highway, rolled over, hit a tree and caught fire.
Frank, 30, died at the scene, and his vehicle remained on the side of the highway as police investigated for several hours
SLOStringer gained a loyal following, but remained a bit of a mystery to the public, fueled by Frank’s decision to remain anonymous. First responders welcomed him, affording him access to scenes, as they did during forest fires last summer.
Frank, a former Cuesta College business administration student who owned a motorcycle shop in San Luis Obispo, could close up shop whenever he heard not-yet-breaking news on his police scanner. And since he was willing to go out at all hours, he often scooped the established media.
His site also functioned as something like a volunteer publicist for the public safety organizations he admired and respected, shooting public safety awards ceremonies, events and group photos in between emergency response calls. His admiration likely came from his father, Steve Frank, a member of the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Department’s Aero Squadron for 44 years, according to the San Luis Obispo Tribune.
While never trained or paid as a journalist, Frank had a passion for the work, his father told the Tribune.
“Matthew found a niche, a passion that people had for news, immediate news, about car wrecks, about driving under the influence, about fires, about floods,” Steve Frank said. “He did all of this anonymously. He never looked for credit for what he was doing. He was insistent on being correct — he had a passion for being correct with all his information.”
All day Tuesday, friends, family, public safety workers and fans of SLOStringer left hundreds of messages on his Facebook site and sites run by the Tribune and KSBY-TV.
During the commute home, traffic slowed on Highway 101 near the crash site, hours after the wreckage was cleared, as motorists who had learned about the crash caught a glimpse of the damaged tree and muddy tire tracks.
Frank’s final post, from Monday morning, described a fatal accident on Highway 41, not far from where actor James Dean had been killed in 1955. The comment section for that post became a place for condolences and memories, led by his father.
“My only child was doing what he loved when he was taken from us,” Steve Frank wrote. “When I can access his site someday I will tell you a little about this young man. … Right now the pain is too great.”