Search and Rescue Volunteer Dies at Oceano Dunes

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. — A search-and-rescue volunteer died Sunday on assignment at Oceano Dunes in San Luis Obispo County, a popular off-roading spot frequented by many Bakersfield families.

Christopher Meadows, 24, was part of a team responding to an accident at the state park south of Pismo Beach shortly after 4 p.m. Sunday, officials reported.

Meadows’ quad flipped as he descended a dune, said Rob Bryn, spokesman for the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Department. The ATV landed on top of Meadows after an almost sheer drop of about 30 feet.

A four-wheel-drive ambulance behind Meadows wasn’t able to stop completely before hitting the downed ATV, the California Highway Patrol reported.

The horror was multiplied because Meadows, an emergency medical technician, was a full-time employee of the ambulance company, Bryn said.

“This is just tragic,” Bryn said. “We have our flags at half staff and mourning bands on our badges.”

The driver and passenger in the ambulance, Michael Talmadge, 36, and Brandon Simmons, , 33, weren’t injured. They began treating Meadows immediately, though he was later pronounced dead at the scene. An autopsy will determine cause of death.

Talmadge is a 13-year veteran who gives four-wheel-drive ambulance instruction, Bryn said.

Meadows had been a search-and-rescue volunteer for a year, having finished his training a week earlier. He was about to be promoted to medical team leader.

Sgt. Gary Rhoades, search and rescue coordinator for the Kern County Sheriff’s Department, said powerful bonds from among the close-knit volunteers.

“It’s tough to lose one of their own like that,” Rhoades said.

The crews work for free, “doing something out of the goodness of their hearts for the community,” Rhoades said.

Kern has about 200 search-and-rescue volunteers who make up 12 groups around the county.

Bakersfield resident Jack Vandigriff spent the weekend with his family at the dunes, formally known as the Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area.

His daughter had seen “a bad accident” in the distance Sunday afternoon but they didn’t investigate. The park stretches along more than five miles of shore and is the only California spot to allow beach driving.

The Vandigriffs returned Monday before a separate tragedy, a fatal accident on Highway 166, closed eastbound traffic for several hours in the afternoon. They passed the scene on the way home, a head-on collision apparently caused by a pass attempt, according to CHP reports.

Victims’ names from the 166 incident had not been released by press time. San Luis Obispo County officials said names would probably be released Tuesday.

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