Somewhere Over the Rainbow was the first song Lillia Raubenolt’s parents sang to her as a newborn, according to her uncle, John Reisinger.
"They were just so happy when she was born," he said.
But on May 23, while the family was visiting Tampa from Ohio, Lillia and her mother Jessica Raubenolt were struck and killed by a car as they legally crossed the road at the corner of Bayshore Boulevard and W. Knights Avenue.
Jessica Raubenolt, 24, died from her injuries shortly after the crash. Lillia, 21 months old, died the following day. They had been staying at Reisinger’s home a few blocks away.
On Sunday, as part of a birthday vigil for Lillia, chalk drawings of rainbows adorned the Bayshore Boulevard sidewalk near that same corner.
Lillia would have turned 2 years old today.
Around noon Sunday, about a dozen were gathered at the Bayshore vigil that ran from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Those in attendance wanted the Raubenolt family to know that Tampa’s thoughts are still with them. Her uncle was the only family member at the Tampa birthday memorial. Resinger said Lillia’s father, David Raubenolt, is at home in Ohio.
"We will never forget them," said Zhenya Nichols, who heads the Keep Bayshore Beautiful neighborhood organization that planned the vigil.
A happy birthday banner was hung. Flowers and stuffed animals were brought as presents. And everyone who came was asked to draw a picture or write a message in colored chalk on the sidewalk.
The vigil had two other goals, Nichols said. One was to encourage people to become organ donors. Reisinger said Lillia’s kidney and heart were donated to young children.
The other purpose was to remind drivers to slow down on Bayshore Boulevard, a popular destination for joggers, cyclists and walkers because of its 4.5-mile unbroken sidewalk with a view of Hillsborough Bay.
Cameron Herrin, 18, the driver of the Ford Mustang that police said struck and killed the mother and daughter, pleaded not guilty to charges of vehicular homicide, street racing and reckless driving.
John Barrineau, 17, the driver of the Nissan Altima that witnesses said was racing Herrin, also pleaded not guilty to those same charges.
And Tristan Herrin, 20, a passenger in his younger brother’s car, pleaded not guilty to a misdemeanor street racing charge.
"Every time someone is hit by a car it is a tragedy," Nichols said. "But this was the final drop in the cup of patience. We cannot let it happen again."
It was Nichols who two months ago led the charge to have concrete planters filled with flowers placed near the site as a memorial. Since then, volunteers from the neighborhood organization have watered the flowers daily. Among the volunteers are Jack and Lin Ninnis, who attended Sunday’s vigil. Their daughter Amanda Ninnis was killed in 1993 in Pennsylvania, when the car she was in was struck by a speeding vehicle.
"A tragedy strikes, and everyone supports the family," said Jack Ninnis. "But as time goes by, it is easy to forget. We all have to remember."
Ninnis said Amanda was 15 when she died, so the following year they threw her the Sweet 16 party she’d wanted. They continue to celebrate her birthday every year.
To honor Lillia’s birthday, her Tampa uncle created a video montage of photos of her and her mother. The backing music was a version of Somewhere Over the Rainbow that Tampa General Hospital made for the family. The percussion is Lillia’s heartbeat recorded by the hospital before she died.
"The family is appreciative of the outpouring of sorrow from everyone," Reisinger said.
He recalled a picture that Lillia’s father David sent him on the early evening of May 26.
That day, Somewhere Over the Rainbow played at a vigil on that same Bayshore corner. Hours later, from his balcony at the Westin Tampa Waterside, the father saw a rainbow in the sky.
"From what I saw in his cell phone picture, it was beautiful," Reisinger. "It stretched from the ground all the way to heaven."
Contact Paul Guzzo at [email protected] Follow @PGuzzoTimes.