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thedrifter
02-14-09, 08:50 AM
Riverside man dies in Buffalo air crash

10:53 PM PST on Friday, February 13, 2009

By DOUGLAS QUAN
The Press-Enterprise


Ever since a helicopter accident in the Vietnam War, Clay Yarber hated to fly.

Yet on Thursday he joined 48 others on Continental Flight 3407 from Newark, N.J., to Buffalo, N.Y., propelled by the one emotion more powerful than his fear of flying: Love.

Yarber, 62, of Riverside, a strapping man who went from performing reconnaissance missions for the Marines to playing guitar onstage with bands, was on his way to see his girlfriend, Lonnie Vater, for Valentine's Day.

He was going to move there permanently in March. The couple talked about marriage.

But a few miles short of Buffalo, the plane suddenly pitched forward and crashed, killing everyone on board and one person on the ground.

Investigators were looking into ice buildup on the wings as a possible cause.

Yarber's son, Chris, 22, who lived with his dad for the past year in a small Riverside apartment, thumbed through family photo albums Friday still stunned.

His father may have had a gruff exterior, but he was a gentle 6-foot-4 giant, he said.

"Everyone he met just loved him," Chris Yarber said.

Clay Yarber grew up in Dayton, Ohio.

He had done two tours of duty in Vietnam and returned with two Purple Hearts.

The war took a toll on him physically and mentally, but he found escape in music.

Yarber rocked crowds in bars and auditoriums across Ohio, Florida and other states, playing rhythm guitar in several bands through the '70s, '80s and '90s, including Power Play and Taxi.

The music ranged from Top 40 to funk and rhythm and blues.

Yarber idolized Chicago and Tower of Power.

Yarber married six times.

All the marriages ended cordially, his son said.

In addition to Chris, Yarber had three daughters and one adopted daughter.

Chris' mother, Shari Ingram, a singer in one of Yarber's bands, went into labor with Chris while singing on stage.

When he was 3, Chris was photographed sitting on his father's lap, strumming the guitar while his father keyed the chords.

Growing up with musical parents rubbed off on him.

He moved to Riverside when he was 17 to pursue a music career of his own.

He has performed across Southern California playing guitar and keyboard.

He is working on a solo project.

About a year ago, Clay Yarber drove from Florida to Riverside to live with his son.

His health was deteriorating.

He suffered from numerous illnesses, including diabetes and nerve disease.

He recently had complications with his heart.

He passed his days walking his pit bull Rocko on Mount Rubidoux, and smoking cigarettes and guzzling cans of Diet Coke on his second-floor stoop, waving at neighbors as they walked by.

Neighbor Victor Sartoresi, 63, an Army veteran, said he and Yarber would share war stories.

Yarber always lent a hand to fellow veterans, assisting them with compensation and pension claims, Sartoresi said.

Yarber and his girlfriend, who had been married to one of Yarber's band mates, talked for hours on the phone like high school sweethearts.

Earlier in the week, he went online and ordered her a delivery of Valentine's Day flowers and chocolates.

A couple of months ago, recognizing that his father's health was deteriorating, Chris Yarber asked him to say a few words on video.

He played it on his computer Friday afternoon surrounded by his close friends.

On it, Clay Yarber tells his son not to lie or cheat and to treat others like you want them to treat you.

"Don't say someone's just a bum, because you don't know where they've been."

Then staring straight into the camera, he tells his son: "I'm proud of you. . . . Now turn that damn thing off."

Reach Douglas Quan at 951-368-9479 or dquan@PE.com

Ellie