Jamie-Lynne Knighten wants the world to know the legacy of Matthew Jackson, a man she barely knew.
Their only encounter was brief, about five minutes in a grocery store on Nov. 10. But what happened in those moments, and the tragedy that followed, put the Carlsbad woman on a quest to honor the 28-year-old whose kindness left a deep impression.
"It is beautiful and heartbreaking at the same time," she said this week. "We are trying to turn something sad into something really good."
The late evening trip to Trader Joe's in Oceanside had been stressful for Knighten, her fussy 5-month-old in tow as she navigated a market she had not been to before. The trip to the register was worse: A $200 tab, her debit card at home, her credit card declined thanks to an anti-fraud lock, and, of course, a crying baby.
Knighten began fumbling for her phone to call the bank, as a long line stretched behind her, when a young man stepped up and asked if he could cover the cost. She first refused, but he asked again. When she looked into his eyes, Knighten said, she realized that he truly wanted to help.
"It just felt like this huge hug, this great big bear hug," the married mother of two said.
The man said he wanted nothing in return; he simply wanted her to do the same for someone else.
She agreed, but asked his name and where he worked, thinking that somehow she still wanted to acknowledge his selfless act.
So more than a week later, when she finally had a moment, Knighten called Jackson's boss at LA Fitness, to say how kind he had been, and perhaps bring him a gift.
The gym manager began crying, Knighten said. Days earlier, Jackson was killed in a car accident — his Ford Fiesta struck a tree along a shopping complex at the end of West Vista Way, not far from the store where Knighten met him. Two passengers in the car were hurt but have since been released from the hospital.
The crash happened less than 24 hours after Jackson had paid Knighten's grocery bill.
After a sleepless night, Knighten took to Facebook: "I still cannot believe it. I thought for sure I would get the chance to see him again, give him a hug and thank him at least once more in person. Now I won't get that chance, but more importantly no one else will get the chance to meet him. And that breaks my heart."
The response from friends and family to her Nov. 20 post, she said, "was incredible. People saying they were going to pay it forward in Scotland, in Wisconsin, in Australia. Overwhelming. It was overwhelming."
As a fitness trainer, Jackson didn't make much, and $200 was a lot of money to lay out for a stranger. But his mother, LeeAnn Krymow, said Wednesday that such kindness defined her son.
She remembers one day under a sweltering desert sun — Jackson grew up in Phoenix — when mother and son stopped to get some cold bottled water. At a stop light a block later, he suddenly jumped out of the car, ran over to a panhandler and handed his unopened bottle to the stranger.
"I knew my boy was like this," Krymow said. "He loved to be kind. He was just a really special kid. So cute, so intelligent, so talented, an accomplished musician. You wonder why these things happen."
She said he had attended Liberty University in Virginia and later moved to San Diego County to be with his longtime girlfriend, whom he planned to marry.
Knighten, who is from Canada and had recently returned from a lengthy visit home, said she hopes to spread the word of what she calls "Matthew's legacy." She has started a Facebook page and Twitter account under just that name: "Matthews legacy." Here's a link to the page.
Krymow said she is touched to know that her son will be remembered for his good works.
"There has got to be some good to come of this," she said. "He would be happy to know that other people are learning from his example."
There's a postscript to this story: Jackson's sister and brother-in-law, who is a youth pastor, drove to Carlsbad from their home in the Phoenix suburb of Gilbert to attend the memorial service. Along the way, they stopped with their four young kids for a meal in Yuma. When they went to pay the bill, they got a surprise: Someone had already paid for them.
Figueroa is a staff writer for the San Diego Union Tribune