By Casi McIntyre
A popular Central Coast photojournalist — known to most only by the alias SLOStringer — was typically the first on scene to cover breaking news, including fatal car crashes and fires.
It was about 3 a.m. on March 21, when a motorist lost control of his vehicle while traveling north on Highway 101 south of Santa Margarita, rolled down a grassy embankment and crashed head-on into a tree where his blue SUV burst into flames.
The man, who was pronounced dead at the scene, looked familiar to emergency responders.
He was later identified as Matthew Frank — SLOStringer.
Frank had been enroute to cover a house fire in Atascadero when he died in the fiery crash at the age of 30.
Area firefighters, police, highway patrol, sheriff’s deputies and other first responders attended a memorial for Frank on March 30 at Mountainbrook Church in San Luis Obispo.
“When he got to the scene he would just say ‘Hi, I’m Matt,” said Katie Gargano, a fifth year communications major at Cuesta and on-call firefighter for CalFire/San Luis Obispo County Fire.
Gargano attended the memorial service along with other firefighters from CalFire/SLO County Fire. Frank was remembered as a talented photographer who worked to get the story on his own time and respected everyone on scene, including victims, witnesses and emergency crews.
Before Frank became widely known as SLOStringer on social media, he attended Cuesta College from fall 2005 to spring 2012.
Frank came back to Cuesta as SLOStringer when he covered a fatal crash in November that occurred on Hollister Road in front of the main entrance to the campus.
Cuesta Police Chief Bryan Millard recalled working with Frank that day at the main entrance, noting that he was always the first to arrive to the scene of any accident.
“He got as much of the story as he could,” Millard said.
Millard added that Frank was always reaching to get the full story and that he covered nearly every angle.
Gargano believed that Frank was “very stealthy” in his work and he was very conscious of protecting the image of the firefighters on calls.
When SLO Fire Station 1 held a memorial service for 9/11, Gargano recalled SLOStringer set up in the bushes.
“He took pictures from our side, like a bystander,” Gargano said.
SLOStringer gave all of his photos of accidents to authorities for use in their cases, Gargano said.
“He was a very selfless person,” Gargano said.
SLOStringer had a large fan base on social media with over 12,000 followers on Instagram and 55,888 accounts following his Facebook page.
After his passing, many sent their condolences via these accounts.
“ RIP SLOStringer. No one reported on news around SLO County better than you,” wrote Wendy Wagoner on Facebook.
The community was greatly attached to Frank and his work as a reliable news outlet.
“…our community is going to miss the huge impact you had on us all,” wrote Grace Norris on Facebook.
Frank’s unique brand of photojournalism as SLOStringer was distinct to SLO County, with many stating that his work will live on through his photos.
Millard solemnly noted: “It was a more than a loss.”