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'Pirate man' recalled as neighborhood character

Homeless victim Paulus Smit liked the freedom of the streets, a scavenger who called dumpsters 'the gettin' place.' Despite his appearance, neighbors, friends and children remember him warmly.

January 18, 2012|By Nicole Santa Cruz, Los Angeles Times

Trent Douglass, a pastor who lives down the street from the house, said there are about 20 children in the neighborhood, but he never feared for their safety. "I wasn't worried about my kids playing around them," he said. But each time anything disappeared, the children's first thought was Smit, hence the "pirate man" nickname.

Chris Doyle, an art director who lives next door, said he often spoke with Smit. Doyle once asked him to fish out a trailer hitch for his truck. Smit found one in minutes.

"He was a very personable guy," Doyle said.

Ramon Salinas, the morning supervisor at the Chevron station just north of the Yorba Linda library, said he never thought Smit was a bother.

"Sometimes he would pay with pennies, nickels, whatever, for cigarettes," he said. Smit preferred full-flavored Pall Malls.

A couple doors down, Rodney Lascari, the owner of a pizza shop, said Smit collected aluminum near the dumpsters.

"He was a cool guy," Lascari said.

Smit and his daughters had a special bond. Smit-Lozano, in particular, seemed to understand his lifestyle, especially after her own brief time of living on the streets. She often helped her father, buying him $5 gift cards from Wal-Mart and 7-Eleven so he could have money. She also bought him a pager so he could stay in touch.

But the rough and tumble life was starting to wear on Smit. Just before Christmas, he had been in the hospital for a heart ailment. He told his daughters that life on the streets wasn't the same, and sometimes he called and asked for help. But he liked living on his own, with no rules and so, at times, preferred the streets.

He spent the holidays with Smit-Lozano. She remembers that on Christmas Day he was trying to calm Cole's nerves about some impending paperwork. He told her to enjoy the warmth.

On the day of his death, he called Smit-Rayo to tell her about the stolen bike. He was upset, she said, and went to the boarded-up house where he had been living, collected another bike, put air in the tires and searched for his bed roll and his medications.

Those close to the case believe that Smit's bike had been moved to the last place he slept, across the street from the library.

And no one is sure why he was on the library steps when he was attacked.

"It looks like he just walked into an ambush," Smit-Lozano said.

Since that day, Smit-Lozano has lighted a candle in memory of her father. And each day, when she wakes up, she talks to him. She says, "I'm sorry, Papa."

nicole.santacruz@latimes.com

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