Family fighting through personal tragedy will continue creating Halloween thrills for community

Rick Romano, Julianne Turko recently lost son in motorcycle crash

SAN ANTONIO – Halloween may be only one season on the calendar, but it represents an entire year’s work for one Helotes family.

Rick Romano and Julianne Turko are the couple behind a popular haunt that has been bringing thrills to their community for years.

They transform their front yard on Trailing Fern, and one of their neighbors’ yards, into a haunted house experience that they say attracts a crowd of about 5,000 people.

“This was our annual contribution that we loved to do,” Turko said one recent morning as about a dozen volunteers busily worked nearby, building it.

Rick Romano says the Halloween experience is more "creepy" than "scary" so that families can enjoy it without fear. (KSAT 12 News)

This year, though, the event that always brought them so much joy has taken on a more somber tone.

Nikolas Romano, the couple’s only son who usually worked on the project at his parents’ side, was killed Sept. 21 in a motorcycle crash in San Antonio.

“This was his favorite time of year. He loved doing this. He loved the creation,” Turko said, fighting back tears. “That was hard for us this year because Nik’s not here.”

Rick Romano said he had relied on his 24-year-old son’s knowledge of construction for some of the more difficult aspects of the interactive display. Nik Romano earned a Bachelor of Science in construction management from the University of Texas San Antonio.

“We were supposed to start setting up the day after he died,” Rick Romano said. “My first instinct — I sent out an email to everybody. I said, ‘Don’t come. We’re canceling.’”

However, after careful consideration and encouragement from friends, the couple decided to go through with their plans, believing their son would have wanted it that way.

While the tradition may continue, the parents say they and everyone who knew him feels the loss.

“Nik was one of the kindest people you would ever meet. He was so kind,” Romano said.

Ollie Quintanilla, Nik Romano’s longtime girlfriend, agreed. She said she instantly developed a connection with him in high school.

“He was the life of the party,” she said. “Such a positive person. He was always wanting to help people.”

Now, in his absence, dozens of people are helping his parents.

During their first weekend of setting up the display, more than 50 people — some of them strangers — showed up to lend a hand.

Even one recent morning, during a heavy downpour, some volunteers ensured the couple had what they needed.

“It’s a community that’s helping us deal with this tragedy,” Turko said.

Rick Romano said they’re determined to make sure their son is not forgotten.

All of the displays were designed and hand-crafted by Rick Romano and his son, Nik. (KSAT 12 News)

For starters, they will install a new sign, renaming the Halloween experience as “The Nik Romano Halloween Adventure.”

They also plan to set up a scholarship in his name to benefit students enrolled in UTSA’s construction management program.

The haunted house experience opens to the public Saturday, Oct. 14, from 6-10 p.m. and will run every Friday and Saturday from 6-10 p.m. through Halloween. It is located in the 9300 block of Trailing Fern in Helotes.

About the Authors:

Katrina Webber joined KSAT 12 in December 2009. She reports for Good Morning San Antonio. Katrina was born and raised in Queens, NY, but after living in Gulf Coast states for the past decade, she feels right at home in Texas. It's not unusual to find her singing karaoke or leading a song with her church choir when she's not on-air.

Santiago Esparza is a photojournalist at KSAT 12.