Some Lansdowne area residents were surprised this morning to discover the memorial for the 5-month-old baby boy who was hit and killed in the intersection in August had been taken down.
The Lansdowne on the Potomac homeowners association voted Monday evening to remove the memorial—a display of cards, flowers, balloons and a small wooden cross that has been there since Aug. 31.
That morning, baby Tristan Schulz was in a stroller being pushed by his mother through the Riverside Parkway and Coton Manor Drive intersection when he was struck and killed. His mother, Mindy Schulz, was hospitalized for several days but survived the incident.
In the five months since, people have left gifts at the foot of the Riverside Parkway traffic light. In October, passersby left pumpkins. In December, a Christmas tree, dotted with ornaments, appeared. Yesterday, people left Valentine’s Day cards.
“It’s really been an organic thing, driven by the community,” said Candy Baracat-Donovan who drives past the Riverside Parkway-Coton Manor Drive intersection daily from her home in Edwards Landing.
She has left cards, flowers, candles and, at Christmas, hung ornaments on the tree. There’s been an outpouring of support for the Schulz family, and the memorial is one way for people to demonstrate that support and remember baby Tristan, Baracat-Donovan said.
Skip Davis, who is in his second week as general manager of Lansdowne on The Potomac, said three people spoke during the public comment portion of Monday’s meeting, each of them opposed to keeping the memorial in place.
“The board found themselves in a corner. They didn’t want to appear unsympathetic,” but ultimately, board members had to vote to remove it after receiving complaints from a number of people, Davis said.
“It’s not a decision that they wanted to make, I can tell you that,” he said, estimating that Lansdowne residents are evenly split on whether to keep the memorial in place. “It’s not as simple as everyone wanted to make it.”
Supporters of the Schulz family have asked that a permanent memorial, like a bench or engraved stone, be installed near the intersection. But Davis said that three different parties own that sliver of land—Virginia Department of Transportation, the Lansdowne Conservancy, and the Lansdowne on the Potomac HOA.
Board members have encouraged community members to look into a VDOT program that authorizes roadside memorials in some circumstances for up to two years. An application for such a memorial has been submitted by friends of the Schulz family, according to VDOT.
“I think they made the right decision by saying we’re acknowledging it, but we’re asking you to go this route because it’s cleaner and easier for everyone to understand and explain,” Davis said.
Baracat-Donovan said board members’ reasons for the decision seem disingenuous when they removed the memorial, but left a roadside poster of a lost cat, signs advertising a school play and home sales. “Why are those allowed?” she asked.
A Leesburg man has been charged with one count of involuntary manslaughter, one count of reckless driving, and one count of failure to yield to a pedestrian in a crosswalk. John Miller IV, 45, is scheduled for a 15-day trial in October.