Maryland's 'Batman' struck, killed checking engine of Batmobile on highway

Maryland's own Batman has died.

Leonard Robinson, 51, an Owings Mills resident known for visiting hospitalized children in a Batman suit, was killed Sunday night in a traffic crash in western Maryland.

Robinson's custom-made car -- his own version of a Batmobile -- had broken down on eastbound Interstate 70 near Big Pool in Washington County, and he stopped to check the car, according to the Maryland State Police. Robinson was standing in the fast lane about 10:30 p.m. and was checking the engine when a Toyota Camry struck the car and Robinson.

He was pronounced dead at the scene. The other driver was not injured and has not been charged.

Robinson spent most of his time in the Batman character, spending his own money traveling to cheer up sick children or promote charitable causes.

He gained national attention in 2012 when Montgomery County police posted a dash-cam video online of officers pulling over his Batmobile. The department mourned his death in a statement Monday and described the 2012 traffic stop as a "positive and humorous interaction between officers and Robinson."

They said he was good-natured about verifying his registration and took pictures and shook hands with police officers.

"When we replay the traffic-stop video, we smile and laugh, fondly remembering the day that (Montgomery County police) met a real superhero," the department said. "We hope that the Dark Knight's bright light shines on."

Faces lit up when Robinson walked into a room, said Laurie Strongin, founder of the Hope for Henry Foundation, a Washington nonprofit dedicated to uplifting the area's sickest children.

"He would come into the hospital and transform the place," she said. "When he was there, the kids would forget they were sick; they would forget they were in the hospital. He brought so much joy and happiness into their lives."

Strongin said she met Robinson through a mutual friend, and they quickly realized their shared passion. Hope for Henry has hosted superhero parties for the last 12 years, she said.

Batman was at every one.

"He helped sick kids to heal," Strongin said. "Literally, thousands and thousands of sick kids' lives were better because of him."

Strongin coordinated Robinson's appearances at the Children's National Health System, where he "inspired our cancer patients to be strong and to laugh and smile," a spokeswoman said.

"Lenny was extremely generous to our staff, patients and families, and we will miss him very much," spokeswoman Emily Hartman said in a statement.

Robinson lived in Owings Mills, not far from the Chestnut Ridge Volunteer Fire Co., where he frequently attended open houses and events for kids.

"He really lived his life as if he was Batman. Every single person who knew him, knew him as Batman," said Larry Getlan, president of the fire company and a classmate of Robinson's at Pikesville High School.

Batman was a popular draw -- even more popular than the fire engines. On Monday, the firefighters changed their marquee sign to read: "RIP Batman, Lenny B. Robinson."

Getlan, who keeps a Batman necklace Robinson gave him in his fire station locker, said it's a tragedy to lose such a generous person.

"He's always doing whatever it takes for kids, especially kids with health issues. He was always there for the kids. He never said 'no' to anybody," Getlan said.

Robinson was busy this summer, as public libraries in Maryland have a superhero theme for their summer reading clubs.

He attended the kickoff for Howard County's reading club at the Miller branch library in late May, cheerfully posing for picture after picture despite sweltering heat, said Christie Lassen, a library spokeswoman.

"It was a hot day and that's a heavy suit," Lassen said. "He was so gracious."

Earlier, Robinson did a photo shoot for the library system, posing for pictures that were used in the library magazine. Staff papered over the windows and doors but struggled to keep the mystery guest secret with his Batmobile parked outside.

Kids lay on the floor, trying to peek under the door to see Robinson. And even though he wasn't scheduled to, he walked through the library and visited with people.

The Washington Post reported that Robinson spent thousands of dollars of his own money on Batman-related items every year, including toys, T-shirts and books he gave away to kids.

Steve Custer got a perfectly timed pep talk from Robinson when they first met about three years ago at a children's hospital -- Robinson was Batman, as usual, and Custer was nervous about performing as Superman for sick kids for the first time.

Custer said he was always impressed watching Robinson work with children, talking to him in the Caped Crusader's signature deep, gravelly voice.

"In his Batman voice, he'd tell them: 'You have to make a promise to me.' And the kids would be right on their toes, wide-eyed. They were ready, they wanted to know what the promise was, and he'd say: 'You have to fight,' " said Custer, a North Bethesda resident who is an actor when he isn't doing superhero gigs for charity. "He always had the Batman swagger and he certainly filled out the suit. ... I loved watching the way he talked with kids. They were right there with him."

Custer hopes people will be inspired by Robinson to do what they can to help children.

"I just really hope that people are more aware that people can manifest their time into doing things like this, helping kids out," he said.

Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, who lives in Owings Mills, was a fan of Robinson's, too. He posted a photo on the county's Facebook page Monday showing his sons posing with Robinson at an event a few years ago.

"We literally lost a real-life hero," Kamenetz wrote.

A woman who answered the phone at Robinson's parents' home said the family declined to be interviewed.

A funeral service is planned for noon Wednesday at Har Sinai Congregation in Owings Mills. In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to Superheroes for Kids at Sinai Hospital.

The Associated Press contributed.

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