‘Mr. Miyagi’ found dead under Athens bridge

Mr. Miyagi has died.

Not the fictional karate master in the movie “Karate Kid,” but 59-year-old Ronald Lee Verraneault, who was given that nickname by fellow homeless people in Athens.

“Most people on the street wouldn’t recognize the name Ronald Verraneault,” said Mitchell Holland, manager of Bigger Vision Community Shelter where Verraneault was a seasonal client the past two years.

“They affectionately called him Mr. Miyagi, I guess because he had this long, wispy beard that kind of gave him an Asian appearance,” Holland said on Thursday

Verraneault’s body was found Sunday morning under a railway bridge in east Athens. There were no obvious indications of foul play, and authorities said they were awaiting autopsy results that could indicate why he died.

Possibly the last person to see Verraneault alive was Bernard Randolph, who also is homeless. Randolph told police that when he was out collecting cans to recycle at about 7 a.m. Saturday, he encountered Verraneault under the railway bridge over North Avenue, lying behind a large concrete pylon. Verraneault gave Randolph permission to take his empty beer cans, according to police.

Randolph told police he returned to bridge pylon Sunday morning.

“He came back to the same location to collect more empty cans and he found Mr. Verraneault in the same spot, lying in the same manner as yesterday, except that he was dead,” police said.

Upon observing Verraneault, police said “there did not appear to be anything suspicious, but that he had passed away while resting.”

Verraneault died not far from the Bigger Vision shelter, where he was spending nights from October to April over the past two years. An alcoholic, Verraneault obtained his drinking money by panhandling in the area of North Avenue and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Parkway.

Though Verraneault was a regular at the shelter, Holland said he did not know much about the man, who mostly keep to himself and had acquaintances at Bigger Vision who were “drinking buddies.” Holland told police he believed Verraneault was originally from Connecticut. Verraneault told an Athens Banner-Herald photographer in 2014 that prior to coming to Athens, he lived in Winder and Jacksonville, Fla.

A 2007 obituary states that Verraneault’s father died that year at a facility in Norwich, Co., at age 81, having previously resided in Mossup, Conn. Walter Verraneault was said to have been survived by Ronald Verraneault in Georgia,and by another son in Myrtle Beach, S.C.

Holland said Verraneault never caused problems at Bigger Vision, and he was polite when interacting with shelter staff.

“He liked to read, he was always reading books that we have here at the shelter,” Holland said. “He read a lot last season, but not so much this season.”

In November 2014, Verraneault appeared on a video abut the homeless shelter that was produced by the University of Georgia’s Grady News Source.

With a green scarf wrapped around his neck and wearing a hoodie beneath jacket with Corrosion Control Incorporated stitched over the left breast pocket, Verraneault spoke of his gratitude for having somewhere warm to sleep.

“I can’t sleep outside in this weather,” he said. “I would freeze to death, literally.”

A small memorial service is planned for Verraneault at 11 a.m. Monday at Homeless Day Service Center, 240 North Ave.

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