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Tuesday, July 23, 2024

Man sought in Christmas Eve crash in Leesburg that killed 3 behind bars

Zachery Maurice Waldo

A Mount Dora man wanted in connection with a fatal Christmas Eve crash that left three members of a Eustis family dead and one critically injured is behind bars in the Lake County Jail.

Zachery Maurice Waldo, 34, was arrested late Wednesday night and transported to the Marion County Jail. He is facing charges of three counts of DUI manslaughter, DUI with serious bodily injury, possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, fleeing/eluding with no regard to public safety, aggravated battery on a law enforcement officer, possession of marijuana with intent to sell and possession of drug paraphernalia. He was being held on $148,000 bond and is due in court Sept. 21 at 8:30 a.m.

Traffic investigators with the Leesburg Police Department had been searching for Waldo in connection with the crash at the intersection of Dixie Avenue and Canal Street that claimed the lives of Christopher Smith, 44, his wife, Jessica Smith, 35, and their 13-year-old daughter, Haley. The Smith’s 11-year-old son, Hunter, was critically injured in the crash with facial and shoulder injuries.

Jessica and Christopher Smith with their daughter, Haley.
This Christmas Eve crash in Leesburg, which was photographed by a passing motorist, left a Eustis couple and their 13-year-old daughter dead.

Waldo was taken into custody Wednesday night by Lake County sheriff’s deputies and agents from the United States Marshals Service after fleeing from deputies who were attempting to stop his black Dodge SUV at the intersection of State Road 44 and Sparrow Lane. Waldo initially stopped but sped off when deputies approached his vehicle, a sheriff’s office report states.

Waldo drove into a subdivision, struck a deputy’s patrol vehicle and continued to flee. His SUV eventually crashed through a fence on Tall Oak Court, exited onto SR 44 and slammed into a tree just east of Apiary Road. A homeowner told deputies that he had seen Waldo run from the vehicle and cross over his fence, a report states.

A sheriff’s office K-9 started tracking Waldo and he eventually was taken into custody after a homeowner on Grand Island Oaks Circle reported seeing him running through her backyard and hide in her bushes. She said her son was coming home from work when Waldo asked him for a ride out of the area. He was found lying in the homeowner’s backyard wearing nothing but his underwear, the report says.

Both Christopher and Jessica Smith had worked at the Leesburg Wal-Mart. Jessica Smith took a job with the Marion County Sheriff’s Office in October 2015 and was serving as a classification specialist at the time of her death.

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