A 51-year-old man who had dedicated his life to putting smiles on the faces of hospitalized children by dressing up as Batman was killed Sunday in a tragic roadside crash near Hagerstown, Maryland. Lenny B. Robinson, who was known locally as the "Route 29 Batman" and drove a custom-made "Batmobile" with Batman plates, was a popular fixture at local children's hospitals, where he visited young patients suffering from cancer. Authorities confirmed on Monday that Robinson had been investigating car trouble when another vehicle slammed into his car, which then struck Robinson, who died instantly.
According to reports, Robinson had just met a young family while waiting at a nearby gas station to refuel after driving home from a nearby car show. After handing the kids some superhero paraphernalia, The Washington Post reported that Robinson drove off, stopping to pull his car to the side of the road around 10:30 p.m. Moments later, as he was checking the engine of the car, the vehicle was hit by an oncoming Toyota Camry. The family, which had left the gas station at around the same time as Robinson, witnessed the entire incident.
Police reported that no charges had been filed as of Monday, but that an investigation into the incident was ongoing.
"He was my brother, my business partner, my best friend," said Robinson's younger brother Scott in a comment to The Post. "He touched a lot of lives and made a lot of kids smile — that's all he wanted to do."
Robinson, who sold a successful commercial cleaning business that he had started as a teen for a large sum of money in 2007, had been visiting local children's hospitals since the early 2000s, inspired by his own young son's obsession with the caped crusader. However, it wasn't until a viral video of Robinson being pulled over in his $250,000 customized Batmobile hit social media that he became famous for it. (The police who pulled him over ended up letting him go on one condition — that they could take a picture of him, which they did while singing the Batman theme song.)
Hope for Henry (a D.C. nonprofit dedicated to cheering sick children) co-founder Laurie Strongin, who worked closely with Robinson over the years, told reporters that Robinson was "magic" for the young cancer patients. In a statement to USA Today, Strongin added:
Lenny really was Batman. He put so much care into being Batman. He was always in character, he talked to the kids like Batman. He provided kids with so much hope and he shared our mission to make these kids happy and whole. He's such a hero because of how he lived his life ... His heart was filled with love.
According to Bob Anderson, Executive Director of the South Charleston, West Virginia SummerFest, where Robinson had spent the previous weekend working, Robinson was exceptionally hardworking and didn't waste a minute of his time with the children.
"He was just a tremendous individual," said Anderson in a comment to Metro News. "He just stood there for hundreds and hundreds of children and grown-ups to take a picture with them ... he was just a genuine person."
Anderson explained that the Robinson had also made sure to pay a visit to the cancer patients at the CAMC Women and Children’s Hospital during his stay.
In a statement sent to Bustle, the Children's National Medical Center said:
The Children’s National family is incredibly saddened to learn about the death of ‘Batman,’ Lenny Robinson. He inspired our cancer patients to be strong and to laugh and smile at the Hope for Henry events on our main campus. Lenny was extremely generous to our staff, patients, and families, and we will miss him very much.
Although the money Robinson made off of selling his business could have allowed him to spend the rest of his life on a permanent vacation, he told CNN in 2012 that volunteering his Bat-skills in order to cheer up sick children was his real calling. He added:
You see what’s going on. It has to be moving. Sometimes you’re crying on the inside but you’re strong on the outside. These are the real superheroes. It’s not me, it’s not you. They’re fighting for their lives every single day ... Remember, at the end of the day, ask yourself, ‘Self, did I make a difference?’ And the answer had better be yes.
Correction: An earlier version of this article noted that Robinson was driving a Lamborghini, which was in error. Bustle regrets this error.