DUI manslaughter arrest made in triple fatal Christmas Eve crash

Parents, 13-year-old daughter killed in Lake County wreck

Zachary Waldo (WKMG 2020)

LEESBURG, Fla. – A man accused of causing a crash that killed three people, including a 13-year-old girl, on Christmas Eve in Leesburg has been arrested after evading law enforcement for months, according to the Lake County authorities.

The wreck happened Dec. 24 around 8:30 p.m. at the intersection of SR 44 (Dixie Avenue) and Dozier Court, according to the Leesburg Police Department.

Investigators said a 2019 black Ram pickup, driven by 33-year-old Zachery Waldo, of Mount Dora, was heading east on S.R. 44, approaching Dozier Court, police said.

A 2018 Toyota, driven by 44-year-old Christopher Smith, of Eustis, appears to have been traveling west on S.R. 44, making a left turn onto Dozier Court, according to police.

The front of the Ram collided with the right side of the Toyota in the intersection, officials said.

Smith and his front-seat passenger, 35-year-old Jessica Smith, died at the scene, according to officials. Their 13-year-old daughter, Hailey, died Christmas morning at Arnold Palmer Hospital in Orlando. Their 11-year-old son, Hunter, was also injured in the crash but survived.

Jessica Smith was a classification specialist with the Marion County Sheriff’s Office.

Waldo and his passenger, 33-year-old Kevin Cunningham, of Tavares, were taken to the Ocala Regional Medical Center. Waldo left the hospital before detectives could speak with him, officials said.

Investigators said they found marijuana, a scale and plastic bags in Waldo’s pickup, along with bottles of beer and a stolen loaded handgun.

Traffic homicide detectives later learned Waldo was traveling 84 mph when he crashed into the Smith family vehicle, and medical tests show he was under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs, according to authorities. Detectives said he was traveling more than 60 mph over the posted speed limit prior to the crash.

In June, Leesburg police detectives obtained a warrant for Waldo’s arrest for DUI manslaughter, possession of a firearm as a convicted felon, possession of marijuana with intent to sell and possession of drug paraphernalia.

Waldo was able to evade arrest until Wednesday night when he was located in the Grand Island area, investigators said. He attempted to flee from officers with the U.S. Marshal’s Task Force and the Lake County Sheriff’s Office, but he was ultimately arrested, according to Leesburg police.

Waldo attempted to get away driving through a fence and crashing into a patrol vehicle, according to the report. K-9s were able to track Waldo to the backyard of a home on Grand Island Oaks Circle, where the homeowner told deputies there was a man hiding in her bushes, the report said. Waldo was found on the ground wearing only his underwear when he was arrested, officials said.