Leonard Robinson, 51, an Owings Mills man known for visiting hospitalized children in full Batman regalia, was killed Sunday night in a traffic crash in Western Maryland.
Robinson's custom black car — his version of the Batmobile — had broken down on eastbound Interstate 70 near Big Pool in Washington County about 10:30 p.m., state police said. Robinson was standing in the fast lane and checking the engine when he and his vehicle were struck by a Toyota Camry.
He was pronounced dead at the scene, police said. The driver of the Camry was not injured and has not been charged.
Robinson, who has three sons, spent much of his time in the Batman character, spending his money traveling to cheer up sick children or promote charitable causes.
Laurie Strongin, founder of the Hope for Henry Foundation, a Washington nonprofit dedicated to helping the area's sickest children, said faces lit up when Robinson walked into a room.
"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."
Robinson drew national attention in 2012 when Montgomery County police posted dash-camera video online of officers pulling over his Batmobile.
The department mourned his death in a statement Monday. County police described the 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."
Strongin said she met Robinson through a mutual friend, and they quickly realized their shared passion. Hope for Henry has hosted superhero parties for 12 years.
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 a spokeswoman said he "inspired our cancer patients to be strong and to laugh and smile."
"Lenny was extremely generous to our staff, patients and families," spokeswoman Emily Hartman said in a statement. "We will miss him very much."
Robinson lived not far from the Chestnut Ridge Volunteer Fire Company, where he frequently attended open houses and events for children.
"He really lived his life as if he was Batman," said Larry Getlan, president of the fire company and a classmate of Robinson's at Pikesville High School. "Every single person who knew him, knew him as Batman."
The Caped Crusader 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 was a tragedy to lose a person who was so generous.
"He's always doing whatever it takes for kids, especially kids with health issues," he said. "He was always there for the kids. He never said no to anybody."
Robinson was busy this summer, as public libraries in Maryland took a superhero theme for their summer reading programs.
He attended the kickoff for Howard County's reading club at the Miller branch library in late May, posing cheerfully 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 Howard County 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. He emerged to walk through the library and visit with people — even though it wasn't on his schedule.
Robinson made his money in the cleaning business, The Washington Post reported. He spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on the car, the costume and the Batman-related items — toys, T-shirts and books — that he gave to kids.
"He touched a lot of lives and made a lot of kids smile," his brother Scott Robinson told the Post. "That's all he wanted to do."
Steve Custer got a perfectly timed pep talk from Robinson three years ago at a children's hospital. Robinson was Batman, as usual. Custer was nervous about his first performance for sick kids as Superman.
Custer, an actor from North Bethesda, said he was always impressed watching Robinson work with children, talking to them 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.'
"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.
"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 also a fan. He posted a photo from five years ago on the county's Facebook page Monday, showing his sons posing with Robinson in his Batman costume and one of Kamenetz's sons dressed as Robin.
"Last night we lost our good friend Lenny 'Batman' Robinson," Kamenetz wrote. "Lenny was returning from visiting sick children in a hospital, something he has done for years. …
"We literally lost a real-life hero."
A woman who answered the phone at Robinson's parents' home on Monday said the family did not want 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.