On the last day of his life, Harison Long-Randall seemed almost back to normal, talking to his parents as the family tried to organize a visit from his girlfriend.
"This guy was just, hey, he looked great," his father, Chris Randall, said Tuesday. "I thought, 'Man, he's talking, he's back to his normal self '
"It was like the old Hari."
Long-Randall was amazed at the worldwide outpouring of support since the hit-and-run in Carmichael that cut down him and his girlfriend, Gemily West, and killed her four dogs.
"He couldn't believe he was being thought of as a hero," his mother, Gail, said.
But his injuries must have been too great. His vital signs dropped and, despite what the family said were heroic efforts by doctors and nurses at Mercy San Juan Medical Center, the 21-year-old Grass Valley man died at 3:02 a.m. Sunday.
"It's just, like, surreal," his 58-year-old father said Tuesday as the family gathered at their home with The Bee to talk for the first time about the young man's death.
The family says they have not been given an official cause of death, but believe it was from complications of blunt-force trauma. Hospital officials say they cannot comment, and the Sacramento County Coroner's Office did not respond to a request Tuesday for the cause of death.
Alternating between tearful moments and steely resolve to see that the accused hit-and-run driver never again returns to the roadways, the family described Long-Randall as a gregarious young man who would rather hug a new acquaintance than shake hands.
As a boy, they called him the "wild man" as he ran through their home in Carmichael, where Long-Randall went to school. Despite a developmental disability, he graduated from Del Campo High School in 2009, a moment that made him swell with pride.
He loved Disneyland and soccer as a boy and, like many children, became firmly attached to certain things. When he left a stuffed dinosaur toy behind in a hotel room, Chris Randall dutifully turned around and drove the 40 miles back to retrieve it after the loss was discovered.
Like his 23-year-old girlfriend, Long-Randall had a love of animé and designing ornate costumes and masks, and was well-known among animé convention attendees.
He didn't drive because of a mild disorder that sometimes caused seizures, but he managed to make his way around the region on buses, on his bike or with rides from friends and family members.
He was a student at American River College, studying improv last fall and wowing his parents with his onstage skills.
"He would seize any opportunity to get up in front of a crowd of people," his mother said.
Long-Randall was one of five siblings, including his twin sister, Emma; his 23-year-old brother, Bryce; Mary Beth, 25; and the oldest, 33-year-old Chrissy.
Since the July 16 hit-and-run, the family had virtually lived in the hospital, thinking that despite his terrible injuries he was going to pull through.
"Here's my son he's just an incredible young man," Chris Randall said. "And here he goes through this horrific (incident), he goes through three or four horrific surgeries and he doesn't complain.
"And each person that comes in, he lifts up his hand to shake their hand. Incredible. It just makes me cry so bad."
The incident has had a profound impact on countless people. On Tuesday, the family received a condolence email from someone in Thailand. Sympathy cards and checks have flowed in, with more than $26,000 collected by The Bee and at least another $10,000 pledged.
Much of the outpouring stems from word that, just before the couple were hit by a car racing down the residential street at an estimated 80 mph, Long-Randall stepped in front of West to try to save her.
His last day in the hospital he remained puzzled that he was being called a hero.
"Earlier that day, he said he had just done what he had been taught to do," his father said.
As for the suspect in the hit-and-run, 31-year-old Paul William Walden, Chris Randall said he has confidence that the system will work.
"I just want to see justice done," he said. "My son's passed, and he still gets to live."