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Ideas for fatal Bayshore crash memorial include lilies for little Lillia and her mom

Zhenya Nichols was so saddened by the tragic death of Lillia Raubenolt and her mother, Jessica Raubenolt, that she is trying to organize a memorial garden of pink lilies on Bayshore Boulevard. It is one of several ideas for a memorial that have emerged. The Raubenolts are pictured at right with Lillia's father, David Raubenolt. [Zhenya Nichols, Facebook]
Zhenya Nichols was so saddened by the tragic death of Lillia Raubenolt and her mother, Jessica Raubenolt, that she is trying to organize a memorial garden of pink lilies on Bayshore Boulevard. It is one of several ideas for a memorial that have emerged. The Raubenolts are pictured at right with Lillia's father, David Raubenolt. [Zhenya Nichols, Facebook]
Published May 30, 2018

TAMPA —The night 21-month-old Lillia Raubenolt died, Zhenya Nichols walked eight blocks from her home on Bayshore Court to the small memorial of flowers, balloons and teddy bears along Bayshore Boulevard. She lit a candle, cried and watched the northbound traffic zoom toward downtown.

Just a day before, the toddler's mother was fatally injured crossing Bayshore Boulevard by a teen driver who slammed into them as he was racing a friend, police said. Jessica Raubenolt, 24, of Jeromesville, Ohio, was pushing Lillia in a stroller at the time.

Nichols didn't know the family, but the tragedy was all anyone could talk about, especially in the neighborhood where it happened. Comments flooded Facebook groups and neighborhood mobile apps. She felt helpless.

As the cars sped by, the 57-year-old raised the candle, high enough for the drivers to see the flame and the memorial she sat beside. She did that for nearly three hours.

"In a few weeks, these flowers are going to wilt and the balloons are going to deflate, and people are going to forget," Nichols told the Tampa Bay Times. "That's why I want to preserve their memory and remind walkers to be careful and drivers to slow down."

Nichols, an avid gardener, and dozens of neighbors along Bayshore Boulevard are planning a permanent memorial somewhere along the four-lane roadway, which is divided by a wide median of grass and trees.

One plan is to plant pink lilies, in tribute to Lillia, at Knights Avenue and Bayshore Boulevard, where the Raubenolts were fatally injured. Pink was Jessica's favorite color, Nichols learned.

She hopes the lily garden will extend across Bayshore Boulevard, along the median, and on the west side of the street, serving as both a memorial and a reminder to pedestrians and motorists to be careful.

Other memorial ideas, such as a pink muraled crosswalk at the intersection, a life-sized bronze sculpture, a metal silhouette, a bench with a dedicated plaque or an annual 5K race have also been proposed by neighbors.

"We want it to reflect someone out, enjoying the day, which is what Jessica and Lillia were doing," said Sandy Gomo, 53, who lives near Bayshore and has also tried to organize a memorial.

Although city officials have yet to discuss the effort, Nichols said she has received initial support from City Council member Harry Cohen, who is also running for mayor. Nichols, who heads the neighborhood organization Keep Bayshore Beautiful, plans to discuss the logistics of the memorial at the next meeting on Wednesday.

"I'm open to the idea of a memorial along Bayshore," Cohen said, "but first we need to determine what that proposal will be and whether the location will be in county or city jurisdiction. But whatever the citizens want to talk about, I am certainly willing to talk."

Several Facebook groups, including "Bayshore Memorial for Jessica and Lillia," have also been created to organize a future memorial.

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"I hope that it's an ongoing lesson for us," Gomo said. "That's why I want a permanent reminder that when you don't act, there are consequences that are severe and tragic."

Contact Tim Fanning at tfanning@tampabay.com. Follow at @TimothyjFanning

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