Funeral honors crash victims
3 family members were killed, leaving behind an 11-year-old survivor
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.
People gather Monday for a celebration-of-life ceremony for three family members killed in a crash Dec. 24.