It was a crisp, clear New Year's night. A nearly full moon reflected on Harbor Lake like a beacon for several young couples necking in their cars.
For Eugeniusz Koss, a man who relished beautiful scenes, the setting must have been irresistible.
Family and friends say Koss, of San Pedro, was out for a drive last week, looking for a place to listen to his music. He loved the classics and would often pull off the road at an appealing spot and fall asleep while listening to tapes of Mozart or Vivaldi.
Acquaintances were charmed, but troubled, by the habit. They warned Koss that he might be robbed, or worse, while sitting in his car.
Friday night, their fears were realized. Police said Koss was shot to death about 10:20 p.m. in the parking lot south of the Harbor City lake in what they believe was a bungled robbery.
Witnesses heard a single shot and saw two men running away. When police arrived a short time later they found Koss crumpled on the asphalt next to his car. A Rolex watch was still fastened to his wrist and an expensive set of binoculars lay inside the car. The door stood ajar and the stereo played quietly.
"It was probably a robbery attempt," said Detective Kim Wierman. "It could have been that he resisted or refused one of their demands."
Police are still looking for the two young men seen running from the car.
The lake and surrounding Harbor Regional Park are not the safest place for nighttime relaxation, police said. "I would say that there is something in the park, some sort of assault, almost every other week," said one officer, who requested anonymity.
One man was injured in the park Dec. 20 in a shooting that police believe was gang-related.
But Koss, who would have turned 50 today, didn't seem to worry about such things.
"I told him one of these days you are going to fall asleep and someone is going to come up and shoot you," said friend Tony Waz. "And he said, 'Why would anyone want to shoot me?' "
Koss reportedly told friends that he couldn't imagine any danger greater than he experienced escaping from his native Poland. His friends and family said he was captured twice on the Baltic Sea, once in a rowboat and once in a hijacked fishing boat, as he tried to make his way to Sweden. He finally succeeded by stowing away in the cargo hold of a French freighter.
He was 23 when he arrived in Chicago in 1961. He met his Polish-born wife there, after a three-year stint in the Army, and the couple soon moved to San Pedro, where they raised two sons.
Koss was known as Gienek or Eugene to his friends, a close-knit group who live in the harbor area. Many are Polish immigrants. After a funeral Mass in Polish on Wednesday, they described Koss as a civilized man who could not imagine why others would be uncivil to him.
"He was against violence, and, being good, it just wouldn't make any sense to him," said his wife, Maria.
She said Koss made a good living as a machinist at the Union Oil Refinery in Wilmington, but moved overseas four times for contract work that paid higher wages.
He was not a rich man, friends said, but he enjoyed the finer things in life. Koss loved to prepare cappuccino for friends as they listened to his favorite classical recordings. He enjoyed sailing with a friend in Newport Beach. And he played tennis whenever he could get a game.
Koss was a fit man and talked on New Year's Day about taking up a new sport--mountain bicycling. His family members said he left for his drive about 8 p.m. after his wife and youngest son Peter, 11, said they did not want to play tennis.
Friends said it was appropriate that Koss was listening to music in the end.
"He said he saw the trees, the moon, the earth" during such moments, Waz recalled. "He said it all became more colorful to him. He said he saw the world differently."