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Lathrop man dies in solo accident
EMT, 22, had just proposed to his fiance the night before
Christopher Berlin Gardner - photo by Photo Contributed

LATHROP – The future looked bright and promising for 22-year-old Christopher Berlin Gardner.

The Sierra High School graduate and Eagle Scout had just received his EMT license and landed his first job as an emergency medical technician.

He was on his way to work when he was killed last Sunday in a solo car accident on Highway 99 just outside of Merced.

The job he was going to was right up the Eagle Scout’s alley. He was hired to be the EMT at Camp Chawanakee “where Scouting all comes together,” as the Sequoia Council of the Boy Scouts of America touts their camping facility near Fresno.

“It was just for the summer,” grieving father, Gilbert, said of his oldest child’s first official job stint as an EMT.

Then tearfully, he added, “The night before, he proposed to his future wife, which makes it all the more tragic.”

His fiancée is Rebekah Doran of Manteca who also graduated from Sierra High.

Before leaving for work that fateful morning, Christopher drove his betrothed to her job at Target in west Lathrop.

“Then he came back here (at home), got his bags, said goodbye to his mom and then left,” recalled his father.

 Gilbert Gardner said the accident happened around 10 o’clock that morning. Eyewitnesses’ account based on the investigation indicated that he “drifted off the road, overcorrected, and the car rolled and ran into a telephone pole,” he said.

The quality manager at a machine shop just outside of Auburn is still finding it hard to believe that his older son is gone, calling his untimely death “just a travesty.”

While his son’s summer job at the Boy Scout Camp in Fresno was his first as a licensed EMT, Gilbert Gardner said his son had previously worked as an “assistant swim coach at Lathrop High School.

“This last season was his first season, but he was looking forward to many more” years of coaching, he said.

He also marveled at the way his son became involved in so many community events both in Lathrop and Manteca.

“He was quite a young man. He did all kinds of volunteer work. He was always there for a lot of people. That’s the life he had chosen,” Gilbert Gardner said, fondly recalling how his son became known to a lot of people, especially among emergency fire and police personnel at both neighboring cities who supported him and helped him realize his dream of becoming one of them.

 “He was just an amazing young man,” he said.

For his Eagle Scout project during his high school senior at Sierra, “he set up an emergency lockdown program at elementary schools,” the senior Gardner said of his son’s selected project.

He put together an emergency food ration for school children. “That way, if the school has to lock down for an extended amount of time, the students get food until they are released to their parents.” He did his project for the Joseph Widmer, Jr. Elementary School but it was for other schools as well.

Even after he received his Eagle Scout award, Christopher Gardner did not stop there. He went on to become a member of the Order of the Arrow and the Venture Crew of the Boy Scouts of America, Troop #422.

He was just as busy and active in high school at Sierra High. In sports, he was in track and field and cross country for four years, and was a cadet in the JROTC program, also for four years.

After high school, he attended Abrams College in Modesto.

He is survived by members of his large and loving family: parents Gilbert and Cheryl Gardner; fiancée Rebekah Doran; grandparents Joyce Fitzpatrick, John Marseline, Mike Fitzpatrick, and Rosemary Marseline; brother Stephan Gardner who is also a graduate of Sierra High, sister Alyssa Gardner who graduated from Lathrop High this year; and numerous aunts, uncles, and cousins. He was preceded in death by his late grandparents Hal Gardner, Irene Gardner, and Darlene Gardner.

A memorial service for Christopher Gardner will be held on Tuesday, July 10, at the Emory Hall, 1028 W. Yosemite Avenue in Manteca starting at 1 p.m. No flowers, please. Family members are asking that donations be made to a service organization of their choice in Christopher’s name. Funeral arrangements are held by Park View Funeral Home in Manteca.