Funeral hon­ors crash vic­tims

3 fam­ily mem­bers were killed, leav­ing be­hind an 11-year-old sur­vivor

Orlando Sentinel - - FRONT PAGE - By Stephen Hu­dak

EUSTIS — Friends and fam­ily, rep­re­sen­ta­tives of two sher­iff ’s of­fices and Wal­mart co­work­ers gath­ered Mon­day to mourn a Eustis fam­ily killed in a Christ­mas Eve crash — and to re­mem­ber the 11-year-old boy who sur­vived.

“The boy’s got a long road ahead,” Den­nis Jenk­ins, 61, an un­cle to young Hunter Smith’s mother, said out­side the Ham­lin & Hil­bish funeral home. Hunter was crit­i­cally in­jured in the Lees­burg wreck that killed his mom, dad and big sis­ter.

The two-ve­hi­cle wreck about 8:30 p.m. Dec. 24 on Dixie Av­enue “re­mains under in­ves­ti­ga­tion and there has been some in­ves­tiga­tive progress,” Lees­burg po­lice Capt. Joe Iozzi said Mon­day.

Christo­pher Smith, 44, was at­tempt­ing to turn left from Dixie Av­enue into Vene­tian Gar­dens, site of a pop­u­lar Christ­mas light­ing dis­play.

Smith, along with his wife, Jes­sica, 35, and their 13-year-old daugh­ter, Hai­ley, died from in­juries after a pickup truck struck the right side of Smith’s Toy­ota, ac­cord­ing to po­lice.

Many who came to pay re­spects Mon­day fo­cused their con­cerns on Hunter, a spe­cial-needs stu­dent at Tri­an­gle El­e­men­tary School in Mount Dora.

“His world’s come apart,” Jenk­ins said. “God’s got a rea­son for ev­ery­thing, even if you don’t un­der­stand it.”

Con­nie Pea­cock, who worked with Christo­pher Smith at the Lees­burg Wal­mart store, said she

was dev­as­tated when she heard of the tragedy and heart­bro­ken to imag­ine the boy’s grief.

“I’d take his place in a sec­ond if I could,” the Fruit­land Park res­i­dent said.

Many griev­ing for the fam­ily ar­rived dressed in dark blue Wal­mart work vests hon­or­ing Christo­pher Smith, a su­per­vi­sor at the store, and his wife, who for­merly worked for the re­tail gi­ant.

Both were well liked and ap­pre­ci­ated by co­work­ers, who de­scribed them as kind and pa­tient.

The Mar­ion County Sher­iff’s Of­fice, where Jes­sica Smith had worked for more than four years as a de­ten­tion as­sis­tant, sent a del­e­ga­tion to the ser­vice.

The group in­cluded Chief Deputy Robert Dou­glas, chap­lain Vern Phillips and the sher­iff’s honor guard.

Sher­iff Billy Woods called Jes­sica Smith a “val­ued mem­ber of our law en­force­ment and de­ten­tion fam­ily.”

Lake County Sher­iff Pey­ton Grinnell also sent a con­tin­gent to the ser­vice. The sher­iff’s ex­plor­ers unit as­sisted with traf­fic con­trol and es­corted mourn­ers across Orange Av­enue to the funeral home’s chapel for a cel­e­bra­tion of life ser­vice that fol­lowed visi­ta­tion.

The ser­vice took place about eight blocks from the pink house where the Smiths lived.

It’s also not far from Eustis Mid­dle School, where Hai­ley played clar­inet and flute in the band. She liked to read, play soccer and play video games with her brother, ac­cord­ing to her obit­u­ary.

Hunter’s fu­ture is the fo­cus of a Face­book fundrais­ing ef­fort that has raised more than $14,000 to ben­e­fit the young­ster.

Lau­rie Smith of Sum­mer­field,

Christo­pher Smith’s sis­ter, wrote in a Face­book post that Hunter has some “pre-ex­ist­ing med­i­cal is­sues and will need all the help and sup­port we can give him.”

“Again I can­not say thank you enough to every­body from near and far, peo­ple I know, peo­ple I don’t know — friends, fam­ily, co-work­ers,” she wrote. “This tragedy has struck a lot of peo­ple very hard. As soon as I can most of this fundraiser is go­ing to be set up for Hunter’s long term care. Luck­ily he has un­cles, aunts, grand­fa­thers and grand­mother and many friends to care for him.”

Re­gard­ing the ac­ci­dent in­ves­ti­ga­tion, Iozzi said he had no fur­ther in­for­ma­tion to re­lease at this time but added that traf­fic in­ves­ti­ga­tors soon would con­fer with the State At­tor­ney’s Of­fice to de­ter­mine if charges are war­ranted.

Christo­pher Smith

Jes­sica Smith

Hai­ley Smith

STEPHEN HU­DAK/OR­LANDO SENTINEL

Peo­ple gather Mon­day for a cel­e­bra­tion-of-life cer­e­mony for three fam­ily mem­bers killed in a crash Dec. 24.

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