|Carson Yeager was a long-suffering alcoholic and graced the Calhoun Community for many years when he wasn't hitch-hiking around the USA, and was the source of countless off-the-wall stories, among the last great street characters in the county. He had enormous survival skills, sometimes disrupted by the police and mental health professionals. In earlier years, he was well known to the Grantsville and Glenville communities. My, the stories we could tell. - Bob Weaver|
Photo and story courtesy of Katie Kuba,
Staff Write for
The Record Delta
BUCKHANNON — Arguably Buckhannon’s most colorful and controversial character has passed away, according to one of his closest confidantes.
Carson Yeager was well-known to many for his ornery antics and penchant for alcohol as he roamed city streets, utterly homeless, for many years of his life. But when he died peacefully in his sleep Wednesday night, he was safe and warm inside, according to a friend with whom Yeager lived for the last four years of his life.
Kevin Fiorillo, who allowed Yeager to live in his Ritchie Street house, first met Yeager when he was grilling hamburgers outside.
“I was cooking hamburgers one day, and I saw Carson Yeager making his way back from the Vicksburg store, and he stopped in and told me he was hungry, so I invited him in for a hamburger,” Fiorillo told The Record Delta Thursday.
That burger was just the beginning of the unique friendship.
“He came back several times after that,” recalled Fiorillo, a 59-year-old veteran and retired J.F. Allen employee. “He told me at that time he was living down there by Bailey’s (Pre-owned Auto on Locust Street) in an abandoned car out back. So he kept coming back, and eventually, the weather got cold, and I saw him out one day and invited him back into the garage. That time, I didn’t have the heart to send him back out into the cold.”
Fiorillo lives alone and had room to spare, so he assigned Yeager the second-floor bedroom in his two-story house.
“He had a lot of local friends who donated a bed to him and things like that,” Fiorillo said.
Yeager shared many stories with his friend over the years. And in the wake of Yeager’s death Wednesday night, Fiorillo hopes the community will remember Yeager for the complex human being he was.
“It was no secret that he had a problem with alcohol,” Fiorillo said. “He could be really annoying when he had been drinking, but you couldn’t ask for a better person when he was sober. He had a lot more good than bad to him. He was a kind-hearted individual; he would give you the shirt off his back. But many people didn’t see that. They just saw the not-so-good side of him.”
As he wandered the city streets, Yeager would occasionally get in trouble for minor offenses. Sometimes the Buckhannon Police Department would have to arrest Yeager for indecent exposure, police chief Matt Gregory said Thursday. And then there was the time Yeager disrupted a church service by swinging a hoe in the middle of an aisle.
“[The hoe incident] has been a number of years ago,” Gregory said. “I think we arrested him at that time for disturbance for religious worship or something. I’ve dealt with Carson my entire career of over 21 years, and he would be arrested for one thing or another.”
Gregory vividly remembered one of the few times he saw Yeager sober. The BPD had been trying to curb drinking in Jawbone Park, and Yeager walked over to share some advice.
“It was when we were having issues with people drinking in Jawbone, and he came over to Doug (Lt. Doug Loudin) and I, completely sober, and said, ‘If they want to drink, they need to go up into the woods and do it,’” Gregory remembered. “Sometimes, we when we would see him, he would be agitated, but other times, he was just as happy as can be. We would be transporting him over to the [homeless] shelter in Elkins, and he would just sit in the backseat and sing about whatever. He liked to sing.”
Fiorillo, too, said Yeager loved to sing. When he wasn’t memorizing songs he heard on the radio, Yeager would make them up himself.
“He would say, ‘If I sing a song, will you give me quarters?’ ”Fiorillo said. “He would just look at his surroundings, and [songs] would just roll off the end of his tongue, whether it was about the weather or a pretty girl. He had the ability to touch your heart.”
So what motivated Fiorillo to take Yeager in for years instead of just one night? Or provide him with a wardrobe rather than just one shirt?
It’s simple, he said. Fiorillo lived on Ritchie Street by himself, so he didn’t mind the company — and he has always been a sucker for a good story.
“I enjoyed listening to his stories,” Fiorillo said. “A lot of people didn’t like the alcohol problem, but on the other hand, it was pretty rewarding to have him around. Neighbors would come over to the garage, and we would call it ‘Carson Yeager Hour.’”
But those stories came to an end Wednesday evening. Yeager, who had been feeling ill for about a week, went to stay the night with Caressa Chapman, who was caring for him while he was sick.
Chapman, the owner of Fox’s Pizza, said Yeager was unresponsive when she tried to wake him up Thursday morning, and she believes he actually died Wednesday night.
“When I got home from work at midnight [Wednesday], I didn’t want to bother him because he doesn’t get a lot of sleep, but when I went to wake him up in the morning, he was still in the same position, so I think he had passed Wednesday night,” Chapman said Thursday afternoon.
Chapman said she wasn’t completely blindsided by Yeager’s death.
“I could tell he was not doing well for the last two months; he was not walking through town like he usually did, and he was complaining about hurting and being wore out,” Chapman said. “I think he just kind of gave up.”
Chapman, like Fiorilli, wants the community to remember Yeager as a caring person.
“He was a big part of the Fox’s Pizza family, and we all loved him dearly,” Chapman said, tearing up. “I want people to know that he had a big heart. He did more for me than I did for him. He was a really good man. He was a big part of my life.”
Rick Bailey, owner of Bailey’s Pre-owned Autos, said he had “100 stories” he could tell about Yeager, who asked him for permission to stay in an abandoned car behind his lot.
“More than anything, though, I would say he was more intelligent than most people realized,” Bailey said. “Of course, he had his drinking problem or whatever. But when he wasn’t drinking, you could easily hold a conversation with him.”
Fiorillo said of all Yeager’s characteristics, he’ll miss his smile the most.
“We were very close,” he said. “I loved Carson to death. I clothed him. I provided food for him, as well as many other neighbors. I looked out after him. I could list pages and pages of people who were very good to Carson.”
But the special friendship between Yeager and Fiorillo wasn’t without bumps and bruises.
“We had our ups and downs,” Fiorillo recounted. “He’d been tossed out of my house once or twice, but he’d come back. When he was drinking, he was very, very annoying and he wouldn’t listen. I’d make him go outside and walk around the block a few times, and he’d come back a completely different person. You just couldn’t stay mad at him.”
As they talked, Fiorillo was able to cobble together bits and pieces of Yeager’s life story.
“There are a lot of rumors that have been floating around Buckhannon, that say he once was married and a professor,” Fiorillo said. “I do know he is originally from Glenville.”
Fiorillo believes Yeager was born into “extreme poverty,” and his father was a heavy drinker.
“I guess he followed in his father’s footsteps in that regard,” Fiorillo said, “but he always spoke highly of his mother. He loved his mother to death. I think she died at the age of 40-something. He dropped out of school in 10th grade to take care of his brothers and sisters because his dad was so irresponsible.”
Yeager wasn’t always unemployed or homeless, Fiorillo learned.
“From my understanding, he traveled around and spent some time in Tennessee and Ohio. He worked for several companies, doing labor on golf courses and things like that,” he said, “but he had a bad car accident at an early age and was unable to work. He had not worked since his mid-50s.”
Fiorillo said everyone he’d notified Thursday morning was saddened to hear of Yeager’s passing. By afternoon, residents living in Buckhannon and beyond were spreading the word of Yeager’s death on Facebook, with many people expressing sadness and affectionately reminiscing about their encounters with “Carson.”
“There’s a lot of misconceptions about him,” Fiorillo said. “He was well-known and had quite a few friends. I think he was a very caring individual when he was not extremely intoxicated — he was caring and cared about people and would do anything for you. He brought great character to Buckhannon.”
Fiorillo said he was working with the W.Va. Department of Health and Human Resources to provide Yeager with a funeral service and burial. He submitted the following remembrance to the newspaper: “Until just recently, Carson Yeager’s normal day started early around 4 a.m. with a cup of coffee and [he would] listen to ‘Moby in the Morning,’ now the Bobbly Bones station. [He was] always cheerful and happy in the morning.
“At first light, he would walk to town and visit many of the local businesses. Carson was man of many talents — a sidewalk sweeper, window washer. [He would] water plants, and any other task that would make him a few dollars (or Somaline’s as he called it). Carson would walk from our home on Ritchie Street to town on average six times a day.
“He enjoyed watching the ‘Andy Griffith Show’ and ‘The Price is Right.’ Unknown to many, Carson was well rehearsed in maintaining his home, very well organized and very gifted. He could remember things and events from many years ago as [if] they just happened yesterday. His stories were detailed, and he told them as [if] they had just happened. [He was a] kind-hearted man that would give the shirt off his back, even if he didn’t have another shirt.”