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Tuesday, Sep 25, 2018
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Strangers are coming together to honor two killed in Bayshore crash

TAMPA ó John Reisinger has seen miracles since his niece and 21-month-old grand-niece were killed while trying to cross Bayshore Boulevard 30 days ago.

Some, he says, are too painful to talk about. Others heís still trying to make sense of, such as how his grand-niece could be kept alive long enough to become a tissue donor.

But there is one miracle that keeps reoccurring: Strangers coming together to remember a mother and daughter they never met.

Until last Tuesday, Reisinger hadnít had time to visit the small, neatly kept memorial of potted plants, flowers and teddy bears set up on Bayshore and W Knights Avenue, where teens racing at speeds of up to 102 mph struck and killed Jessica and Lillia Raubenolt. He had just returned a few days earlier from their funeral services in Ohio.

It was hot and humid, and his blue T-shirt clung to his chest as he watched Zhenya Nichols and Wanda Janiszewski haul dozens of flowers, water jugs and two giant ceramic pots across Bayshoreís four lanes.

"There are no words that I can say that could be enough to express how much I appreciate all of this," Reisinger told them. "Itís very heartwarming to me to see the continued effort by people who have never met my niece and her child to remember them."

Nearly every day since the Raubenolts were killed, Janiszewski and others have walked from their nearby homes to care for the memorial. Itís become a routine: Remove the withered flower petals, water the potted lilies and pick up trash.

They have gotten to know each other in the last few weeks, especially since they decided to pool their resources to add more flowers and plants.

For Janiszweski, Jessica Raubenoltís death hit close to home.

"I have daughters older and younger than Jessica," she told Reisinger, who stood nearby as she poured dark colored fertilizer into a pot. After massaging the soil, she added lilies. "I come out here because it could have been my daughter, my grandchild. I come out here so often because I donít know what else to do."

Janiszweski and Nichols, both avid gardeners, and dozens of neighbors along Bayshore Boulevard are planning a permanent memorial somewhere along the roadway. One plan is to plant pink lilies, in tribute to Lillia.

But plans for the memorial have mostly stalled, as city and county officials struggle to determine whose jurisdiction a memorial, if itís even allowed, falls under.

"One problem is that there isnít one department that really has the ability to make a definitive decision about a memorial," said City Council member Harry Cohen.

On Thursday, the City Council plans to discuss proposed safer street measures, including more flashing crosswalks, narrower lanes and bike lanes. Although not on the agenda, Cohen plans to discuss a permanent memorial.

"That meeting will hopefully help us better understand who has jurisdiction, which department can help get things done and if we can even do it," he said.

Under city rules, small, lollipop-shaped memorial signs, which the city pays for and installs, can only remain in the right of way for one year.

That policy, similar to the countyís memorial policy, tries to balance the emotions of grieving relatives with road safety and neighborsí concerns about the appearance of their communities, said Jean Ducan, director of transportation and stormwater services.

"Technically, the elaborate memorials, like the one currently on Bayshore, arenít allowed," said Duncan, who said itís unusual for the city to grant permanent memorial requests and that much of the discussion about the memorial on Thursday may center on precedent.

"We need to be careful in this discussion because we donít want to open a Pandoraís box to more requests like this, which may create a problem," Duncan said.

For now, as long as the memorial isnít causing safety or sight obstruction concerns, the city doesnít plan to remove it, she said.

It will do for now, "until we get something more permanent from the city," Nichols said. "I donít want it to turn into an ugly, wilted spot, full of forgotten things."

Contact Tim Fanning at [email protected] Follow at @TimothyJFanning.

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