‘Something is missing here now’: Homeless man made Capitol Park a tidier place

Randall Koroush is missed at Capitol Park

Feb. 2017: Capitol Park is a little less tidy because of the death of Randall Koroush, a homeless man who for the past 20 years made it his daily mission to pick up trash, rake leaves and polish the ironwork around California’s statehouse.
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Feb. 2017: Capitol Park is a little less tidy because of the death of Randall Koroush, a homeless man who for the past 20 years made it his daily mission to pick up trash, rake leaves and polish the ironwork around California’s statehouse.

He usually arrived shortly after sunrise, his white T-shirt tucked neatly into his jeans, long before the lobbyists and lawmakers and tourists converged on the California state Capitol in Sacramento.

Randall Koroush spent his nights outdoors, lying down under the I Street Bridge or in a hidden nook behind a church. But for more than 20 years, he devoted his days to the 40 acres of gardens that surround California’s historic statehouse. Capitol Park was his home, and every day he worked to keep it tidy.

He picked up fallen camellia blossoms, oak tree branches and palm fronds. He raked leaves from the steps and sidewalk in front of the Department of General Services’ old greenhouse, where employees allowed him to store duffel bags stuffed with everything he owned. He polished iron gates and swept dirt from bathroom floors. No one paid Koroush for his work. He did it, family members and acquaintances said, because he loved the park and wanted to feel useful.

“He didn’t like litter or clutter,” said Mike Nielson, a General Services supervisor who watched Koroush work almost every day for the past 16 years. “He wanted to do right by this place. He wanted it to look good. He was an extra set of hands even though he wasn’t on the payroll.

“No doubt,” Nielson said, standing near the spot in front of the building where Koroush often ate his Top Ramen noodle lunches. “Something is missing here now.”

Koroush, 56, died under mysterious circumstances earlier this month. According to police and relatives, he walked into Sutter General Hospital on Feb. 1, toting his belongings, struggling to breathe and with cuts and bruises on his face. He died at UC Davis Medical Center a few days later.

Family members said Koroush had severe lung damage as a result of an infection years ago, but they believe he was beaten on the day he showed up at the hospital. The county coroner has listed the cause of his death as “undetermined.” Police said they have no solid evidence that Koroush was assaulted, and that no homicide investigation is underway.

Joe Davis, a California Highway Patrol officer who cruises Capitol Park daily on his horse, knew Koroush only by his first name. He never knew his back story, including the fact that he had been a Boy Scout and a standout Little Leaguer, that he was the son of a man, Jim Koroush, who served on the CHP for 28 years, and the brother of a current CHP employee. He didn’t know that Randall Koroush, more than 25 years ago, had become addicted to drugs and the streets but had been clean for at least a decade. He had no idea that Koroush had four siblings and parents who loved him and tried and failed on many occasions to get him inside.

Like others, Davis didn’t want to pry.

“Randall didn’t say much,” Davis said, “but every single day I saw this guy, wearing the cleanest, crispest white T-shirt you’ve ever seen, working, sweeping, picking up garbage. We all knew Randall. He was a good guy. He had dignity, even though he was homeless. He had a purpose.”

Koroush’s mother, Geri Koroush, said she believes her son’s love of camping and the outdoors drew him to Capitol Park, with its lush grasses and stately firs, sequoias and other trees from around the world. “He wanted to be a forest ranger,” she said, but his “poor choices” as an early adult derailed that dream. Randall Koroush worked a few retail jobs, relatives said, but never was employed for very long.

“He had a lot of respect for that Capitol,” said his mother, who lives in Sacramento. “He considered it his responsibility to take care of it. Once in a while, he would come home and have a meal and do some laundry. Then he was gone. He had to get back to the park.”

Officers wearing the same uniforms that his father once did likely gave Koroush a measure of comfort as he made his way around the Capitol, said his mother and his brother Kevin Koroush, who inspects school buses for the CHP. Randall Koroush never asked officers for help, but they looked after him all the same.

“They kept an eye on him, and they didn’t shoo him away,” Kevin Koroush said. “They treated him very well.”

“They were his guardian angels,” said Geri Koroush. “In his heart, I think he would have liked to be one of them.”

Rain or shine, as the grounds crews and the officers on bicycles and horses began to gather around each day, Randall Koroush would be one of the first visitors to the Capitol. In front of the granite obelisk of the California Veterans Memorial, he would perform stomach crunches and pushups. Wearing his bright white Asics athletic shoes, he would walk briskly around the entire perimeter of the park, slightly stooped, arms swinging, before starting his work routine. Often, he stayed in the park for 10 or 12 hours before disappearing into the darkness.

As he performed his daily duties, Koroush was mostly silent, answering questions with one or two words, acknowledging “hellos” but rarely initiating conversation. Occasionally he talked to himself or to “people who were not actually there,” said Nielson. Family members said he never was diagnosed with a mental illness and that drugs had damaged his brain.

“My son got involved with chemicals, and chemicals changed him a great deal,” Geri Koroush said. “But I never gave up on him, and I never stopped loving him.”

As Randall Koroush roamed the Capitol grounds, said CHP Officer George Granada, visitors would sometimes call to report him as a suspicious person. “But we never had a reason for concern with him,” Granada said. “He never caused a problem. He was very neat and clean. He just did his thing.”

Unlike many of the homeless people who frequent the Capitol, Koroush eschewed handouts. He said “No, thanks” when Nielson offered him a bottle of fruit Gatorade or an office doughnut. He typically brought a cup of Top Ramen, reconsitituting the dry soup with cold water from a Capitol Park fountain, then eating it with a plastic spoon on the stoop of the General Services greenhouse.

He sometimes attended speaking events and protests near the Capitol building, standing alone and slightly away from the crowd, his ruddy face set in a seemingly permanent smirk. On Friday nights in the summer, his brothers knew they could find him listening to music at nearby Cesar Chavez Plaza.

About a week before he died, CHP officers noticed Koroush resting on a bench during the day, Davis said. He said he was feeling ill. “We offered him oatmeal, something nice and warm,” and someone said they could drive him to the hospital. Koroush refused.

“Then he went missing, and we were all concerned,” said Davis. A few phone calls confirmed the worst. Randall Koroush was gone.

“He was a part of this place,” said Nielson, looking across the park toward the statehouse’s elegant dome on a drizzly day last week. “To not see him here anymore, it’s really sad.”

Cynthia Hubert: 916-321-1082, @Cynthia_Hubert