Route 29 Batman is killed after his Batmobile breaks down along a Md. highway
How Batman spent his free time: At hospitals cheering up kids
by Michael S. Rosenwald and John Woodrow Cox, The Washington Post
August 17, 2015
The Batmobile pulled into a gas station Sunday night and, as usual, the children gawked.
Lenny B. Robinson, better known as the Route 29 Batman, was used to that. The Maryland man had become a worldwide internet sensation after an encounter with the Montgomery County police in 2012. He had for years dressed as the Caped Crusader and driven his custom-made, ‘60’s-style beast (or other tricked-out cars) to deliver moments of happiness and distraction to hundreds of sick children in the region’s hospitals.
On Sunday, he was returning from a car show in West Virginia when, during his stop, he met a family whose children were interested in the car, according to Maryland state police. His costume stored in the Batmobile but his alter-ego never entirely switched off, Robinson gave the kids some superhero paraphernalia before leaving about the same time as his new acquaintances.
Minutes later, Robinson pulled over with engine trouble on an unlit stretch of Interstate 70 near Hagerstown, Md., police said. The family parked behind him, turning their emergency lights on.
He had stopped in the median but with his car still “partially in the fast lane,” according to a state police news release. He was checking the engine on the passenger side when at around 10:30 p.m. a Toyota Camry slammed into the Batmobile, propelling the steel-framed hunk of black metal into his body. Robinson, 51, died at the scene.
The crash is still under investigation, and no charges have been filed. The driver of the Camry, who wasn’t injured, declined to comment.
Robinson’s devastated family and friends gathered Monday at his parents’ Owings Mills, Md., home, remembering him not just as Batman, but as a son and a brother, an uncle to three nieces and a father to three sons.
“He was my brother, my business partner, my best friend,” Scott Robinson said.
Though he was divorced and his kids lived in New Jersey, Robinson drove every weekend to pick the boys up and bring them back and forth to Baltimore.
In March 2012, police on Route 29 in Silver Spring, Md., pulled over Lenny B. Robinson dressed head to toe in Batman gear and driving a black Lamborghini with the Batman symbol on its license plate.
The family knows that people around the world are mourning his death. After his story went viral three years ago, he received messages from fans as far away as Germany and Vietnam.
Robinson spent hundreds of thousands of dollars, his brother said, on his Batmobile, costumes and the memorabilia he handed out to children, always autographed “Batman.”
It took him about 45 minutes to put on the black eye makeup and his cumbersome superhero uniform, which drained him of 5 to 6 pounds in water weight every time he wore it.
In hospitals, he didn’t walk so much as stride.
“There will never,” he said, “be another Lenny Robinson.”
The Post revealed Batman’s identity to the world in 2012, after Robinson was pulled over in Silver Spring, Md., in a black Lamborghini and full superhero garb. Video of his encounter with police, who had pulled him over because of a problem with his plates—emblazoned with the Batman symbol—made him an instant Web sensation.
The encounter began turning up in millions of Facebook news feeds, even making it into a Jimmy Fallon monologue.
Robinson, who lived outside of Baltimore, had become wealthy in the cleaning business, earning enough money to buy his own Batmobile, a costume that seemed more real than the one in the movies, and toys and memorabilia that he handed out to children with cancer at hospitals all over Maryland and the District.
The good deeds he did in character were, in some ways, penance for a temper that had led him to fights and run-ins with the law years ago.
“Sometimes,” Ozeryan added, “he might have started it.”
But the suit changed him, said Ozeryan, an amateur filmmaker who followed Robinson in 2012 for a now-stalled documentary.
As the Dark Knight, Robinson used a deep voice, but he was careful to never scare younger children. He liked to pick up the smallest ones and hold them up so they could look down into his eyes.
He had a theory on why the character resonated with kids, explaining it in a 2012 online chat with Post readers.
“Batman is the only super hero that doesn’t have super powers,” he wrote. “He’s naturally a super hero. Kids can relate to me a lot better.”
He also recalled the comment from parents that he heard, and coveted, most: “this is the first time my son or daughter has smiled in months.”
On one visit to Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, Batman reflected on the health of his own three children. “We’re lucky,” he said.
At Children’s, there were kids with tubes in their noses, with IVs in their arms. Batman handed out gifts: books, rubber symbol bracelets and other toys.
Robinson also worked closely with Hope for Henry, a DC organization that helps sick children. Founded by Laurie Strongin and Allen Goldberg after their son Henry died from a rare disease, the group threw superhero parties in hospitals. Batman was always the star.
“He made so many kids so happy,” Strongin said. “When I asked him to do anything, he always said yes.”
“But he called me every year on his birthday,” Strongin said.
Strongin has been crying all morning. The organization had just finished producing a video about the program. It starts with a little boy dressed as Batman. He has leukemia. He’s waiting outside a hospital. The real Batman—Lenny Robinson—pulls up in his Batmobile, gets out and hugs the boy.
“He was magic,” Strongin said.
Marilyn Richardson, who works at Sinai’s Rubin Institute for Advanced Orthopedics, met Robinson about a decade ago when Batman, in his humbler days, was still driving a Chrysler PT Cruiser.
She has thousands of photos of him and nearly as many stories.
On Monday, she recalled the teenager who, while recovering from surgery, had grown depressed as she saw friends on Facebook enjoying the life she wanted. One day, the girl looked out of her hospital room window and noticed the Batmobile.
Then, he walked in.
“Oh my gosh,” she said. “Batman’s here.”
Robinson took a photo with her, and she uploaded it to Facebook. When Richardson saw her later, the girl was glowing: “I’ve never gotten this many likes.”
Another time, he was walking down the hall and came upon a solitary elderly woman staring at the floor. She looked up and saw him.
“Well hello young lady,” he said. She stood up straight and beamed.
But no one adored Robinson more than Elizabeth Gardner, who suffers from TAR Syndrome, a rare disorder that reduces her platelets and has left her arms severely shortened.
She was 6—and intensely afraid of costumed characters—when she first met Batman.
Elizabeth later told him that she was being bullied by other kids at her elementary school.
So, Robinson went to school with her, appearing in full costume before the student body. He told them bullying was wrong and called her onstage to give her a Batman necklace.
Elizabeth, he announced, is my friend.
Later, the two sat facing each other behind the stage. He had taken off the gloves to cool his sweaty hands in front of a fan.
“I wish I could be more like you,” he told her.
The girl shook her head, no.
“That won’t do,” she said. “You’re your own person.”
Michael Rosenwald is a reporter on the Post’s local enterprise team. He writes about the intersection of technology, business and culture. John Woodrow Cox is a reporter on the local enterprise team. Jennifer Jenkins contributed to this report.
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