The community said goodbye to a Clark County Sheriff’s Office deputy killed in the line of duty as friends, family and officers shared stories that brought laughter and tears Monday afternoon.
Matthew Eugene Yates, 41, was shot to death July 24 while responding to a shooting at Harmony Estates Mobile Home Park.
“He devoted his life to making his community better,” Clark County Sheriff Deb Burchett said at his funeral at Springfield’s First Christian Church. “Matthew would be overwhelmed by the outpouring of love for him.”
Mourners filled the sanctuary, with deputies seated on the stage and hundreds of other officers lining the back of the room in rows. Family and friends sat before Yates’ coffin, colored black and yellow, and a large flower arrangement in the shape of a star.
Law enforcement from across the state, representatives from the Ohio Attorney General’s Office, family, friends and community members gathered at the church to remember and honor Yates’ legacy.
And his legacy is one others should strive for, multiple speakers at the services said. Those who loved Yates shared many words to describe the man, who served for the sheriff’s office for 15 years.
A warrior and a champion
Burchett called Yates “a warrior” in law enforcement but also a gentle giant and a lover of jokes. She said his co-workers never knew what he would say over the police radio to get a laugh.
Yates’ cousin Doug Toles Jr., who sang at the service, called Yates a champion, someone who fights for another. He respects his cousin greatly for taking after his personal hero, Eugene Yates.
“And Matt grew up in his father’s image,” Toles said.
Eugene Yates was a veteran of the Clark County Sheriff’s Office. He said on Monday that he didn’t initially want his son to go into law enforcement, but he thought Matt “turned out great.”
Co-workers of Yates — Deputy Fitzroy Lawrence, Deputy William Crump, Deputy John Loney, Deputy Matthew Harris, Sgt. Chad Stalder and Maj. Chris Clark — shared stories about the kindness and the air of mischief Yates had. They talked about his love of wrestling, his ability to fall asleep just about anywhere, and his desire to help others.
Lawrence spoke about the sense of fraternity among the sheriff’s office. Lawrence, who worked with Yates for years, said he viewed the man as a brother.
“He was always involved with something to help give back to the community,” he said.
Those in the church laughed when Lawrence told a story of how Yates split his uniform pants while doing squats. He then used staples to hold his pants together, and then he wore his uniform that way through the end of his shift, Lawrence said.
Leaves a legacy
Loney said Yates was the kind of co-worker to stop by his fellow deputies’ homes to check in on them, ask about their families, ask about their kids. He was also Loney’s primary “movie date.” The pair would go together or with their families to the movie theaters, most recently to see “Top Gun.”
Maj. Clark said July 24 will be a day etched forever in his memory: every detail, the sights, the sounds. He lost a dear friend that day, and he said the days following Yates’ death have been “an emotional rollercoaster ride” for those who loved him.
But Yates’ legacy lies within his strength, Clark said: the strength in his leadership, the strength in his family and his strength in the community.
“He leaves behind a legacy each of us would be proud to achieve,” Clark said. “And I’m going to miss my friend.”
Yates’ two stepsons, Andrew and Anthony Reed, mourned the loss of the “only” dad they “really ever had,” voicing love and gratitude to the man who took them in when they were 8 and 4.
‘Matt would want us to be strong’
Anthony Reed said that in the law enforcement profession, you don’t know when your last goodbye may be. Even so, it was too soon.
“But I know Matt would want us to be strong and make sure everyone is taken care of,” he said. “And we’re going to do exactly that. We love you Matt, and we’ll miss you forever.”
Andrew Reed said Yates was always there for them. Growing up, he often compared his dad to his favorite superhero, The Incredible Hulk, for his strength.
He said he was the same man in uniform that he was out of the uniform, and he would often tell his family everything happens for a reason.
“God, help me figure out the reason for this, because I’m lost,” he said.
Pastor Darryl May, one of Yates’ relatives, gave the eulogy. May was 11 years older than Yates and said he watched the man grow from an opinionated child to a slick-tongued teenager to a strong-minded adult.
The love and power of Yates is felt throughout the community, May said.
“I just can’t believe how a man can be so impactful,” he said.
After the service, a long procession of mourners took Yates’ body to Ferncliff Cemetery. Fire trucks with raised aerial ladders displayed the American flag as mourners made their procession.
All Clark County government offices were closed on Monday in recognition of Yates’ funeral.
Yates was shot as he responded to a report of a call of shots fired inside a Harmony Township mobile home park. Also killed in the incident were Cole White, 27, and his mother, Jodie Arbuckle, 47, of Springfield.
Investigators have not said what happened beyond Yates being shot. Relatives of White and Arbuckle have said that White was having mental health issues, his mother went to check on him, and White shot her. White later shot Yates, they said, and prompted the hours-long standoff that ended with SWAT storming the mobile home to get Yates. A fire erupted in the mobile home a short time after, and it was destroyed.
The incident is under investigation by the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation.