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Thursday, April 25, 2024

Marion County Sheriff’s Office devastated by loss of employee in Christmas Eve crash

Jessica Smith

The Christmas Eve death of a Eustis couple and their 13-year-old daughter has rocked several communities and a local law enforcement agency.

Christopher Smith, 44, and his front-seat passenger, 35-year-old Jessica Smith, both of Eustis, were pronounced dead at the scene of the 8:30 p.m. crash at the intersection of State Road 44 and Dozier Court. Their daughter and 11-year-old son were transported to Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children in Orlando, where she died Christmas morning. Their son is believed to have suffered facial and shoulder injuries and was surrounded by family members on Thursday.

This Christmas Eve crash at the intersection of State Road 44 and Dozier Court in Leesburg, which was photographed by a passing motorist, claimed the lives of a Eustis couple and their 13-year-old daughter.

Jessica Smith had worked for the Marion County Sheriff’s Office since October 2015. She was serving as a classification specialist, having been promoted in April 2016 from her role as a detention assistant.

Marion County Sheriff Billy Woods said he was heartbroken Thursday as he shared the news of the fatal crash with his staff.

“Jessica was a valued member of our law enforcement and detention family,” he said. “Her spirit and presence will be greatly missed. Our thoughts and prayers go out to Jessica’s family, and we pray for a full recovery for her son.”

Leesburg Police traffic investigators are continuing to gather evidence connected to a Christmas Eve crash at the intersection of State Road 44 and Dozier Court. A Eustis couple was killed in the crash and their 13-year-old daughter died on Christmas morning at Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children.

The crash took place around 8:30 p.m. on Tuesday when a 2019 black Dodge Ram pickup, driven by 33-year-old Zachary Waldo, of Mount Dora, was traveling east on SR 44 and slammed into a 2018 Toyota passenger car driven by Smith. It appeared that Smith had been traveling west on SR 44 and was making a left turn onto Dozier Court when the pickup collided with the right side of his vehicle. It is unknown which driver had the green light for the right-of-way, a police report states.

Waldo and his passenger, 33-year-old Kevin Cunningham, of Tavares, were transported to Ocala Regional Medical Center for further treatment. Their conditions weren’t available Thursday.

Traffic investigators from the Leesburg Police Department were continuing their investigation on Thursday by recovering audio/video discovered in the area from the time of the crash, interviewing family members and potential witnesses, performing vehicle inventories and other evidence processing.

Meanwhile, friends of the Smiths took to social media sites to offer condolences. Some speculated that they were in Leesburg on Christmas Eve to enjoying looking at light displays as a family in the Venetian Gardens area.

Leesburg Police and other emergency responders were called to this fatal crash on State Road 44 on Tuesday night.

Jessica Soucia identified Jessica Smith as her trainer at the sheriff’s office and asked for prayers for their injured son. Thomas Smith Jr. said that both Christopher and Jessica had worked with his daughter at the Leesburg Wal-Mart. And Jerry Fallstrom posted that Jessica Smith had used Facebook on Christmas Eve shortly before her death to thank police officers who were working on the holiday and to pay tribute to members of the military who were away from home serving their country.

Anyone with information about the Christmas Eve crash is asked to contact Leesburg Police traffic homicide investigators at (352) 787-2121.

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