Man Accused of Killing Family in 2019 DUI Christmas Eve Crash Leaves Trial for Lunch and Never Comes Back, Found Guilty in Absentia
TAVARES, Florida—A man on trial this week for killing three members of the same family on Christmas Eve 2019 is on the run after leaving his trial during a lunch break and never coming back—and was convicted the same day, according to Lake County Clerk of Court docket information.
Zachery Maurice Waldo, 36, is accused of killing Christopher Smith, 44, his wife, Jessica Smith,35, and their daughter Hailey Smith, 13, all of Eustis. Their son Hunter, just 11 years old, was the sole survivor in the vehicle his family was riding in. Christopher and Jessica died on the scene of the Christmas Eve 2019 crash and Hailey died on Christmas Day 2019.
Waldo was driving a 2019 Dodge Ram eastbound on Dixie Avenue, approaching Dozier Court when a 2018 Toyota Corolla being driven Christopher Smith attempted to make a left turn on Dozier Court. The front of the Ram struck the right side of the Corolla, killing the couple and injuring Hailey and Hunter, Leesburg Police Capt. Joe Iozzi said in 2019.
The event data recorder (EDR) for the Ram recorded the Ram’s speed at 84.5 mph one tenth of a second from the time of impact, but just 2 seconds before, the Ram was traveling at 96.3 mph, according to a report. The posted speed limit is 35 mph, and a witness told LPD the Ram did not slow down, and the brake lights did not illuminate. A witness also put Waldo behind the wheel just before the crash and DNA confirmed, Iozzi said.
Waldo and his passenger, Kevin Cunningham, 33 at the time, were taken to Ocala Regional Medical Center for their injuries. LPD obtained hospital records and Waldo was found to have an alcohol level twice the legal limit, along with amphetamines and benzos in his system, according to the report.
Upon searching the Ram, LPD found a loaded Ruger .40 caliber handgun stolen from Mount Dora, six sandwich bags containing 157.8 grams of marijuana and six cell phones, according to the report.
LPD obtained a warrant for Waldo’s arrest in August 2020 and he was nabbed by Lake County Sheriff’s Office deputies and the U.S. Marshals. They were performing surveillance and spied Waldo get into a black Dodge SUV. Waldo drove out of a neighborhood on Chain O Lakes Road and rolled a stop sign at County Road 44, according to an arrest affidavit. An LCSO deputy attempted a traffic stop and Waldo sped off, running other vehicles off the road. Multiple USMS and LCSO units attempted to stop Waldo and he struck an LCSO patrol car and crashed through a fence on Tall Oak Court, the affidavit states.
Waldo fled on foot and hid in the bushes of a home on Grand Island Oaks Circle and asked for a ride from a man returning home from work. The man denied him the ride and Waldo took off again and jumped over a fence to Laurel Crest Court. He was found lying on the ground wearing nothing but underwear, the affidavit states.
He was charged with a litany of offenses from the crash and his apprehension and was taken to the Lake County where he was released three days later on $148,000 bond.
He disappeared Tuesday, on the second day of his trial and he was tried and found guilty in absentia. If you have information on Waldo’s whereabouts, call Crimeline at 1-800-423-TIPS.