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Driver reaching for cigarette hits Hernando County family, killing 3-year-old

Published Apr. 4, 2016

BROOKSVILLE — Lacey Thomas and her three children — ages 6, 3 and 1 — set out Friday on a usual walk down the tree-lined country road outside their home.

It was right around 5 p.m., and the family wasn't far from their Neff Lake Road house when William Cameron Perkins, 26, drove north up the street in a four-door 2002 Jaguar.

He dropped a cigarette while behind the wheel and became distracted, troopers said. Perkins lost control of the car and struck Thomas and two of the children, who were walking south on the northbound side of the road.

Ava Thomas, 3, died of her injuries, and her 1-year-old brother, Spencer, was fighting for his life Saturday night at St. Joseph's Hospital in Tampa.

State troopers said Perkins was driving with a suspended license.

Ava, Spencer and Lacey Thomas, 24, were all rushed to the hospital after the crash. Tana, 6, was unscathed. Rick Thomas, the children's father, wasn't with the family when the crash occurred.

TV reports Friday night showed the Jaguar with a shattered windshield being hauled away by investigators. Ava died Saturday morning at the hospital. Her mother's condition was listed as stable. Spencer was in "very critical" condition.

Friends of the Thomas family are donating money to a GoFundMe page to help pay medical and funerals costs. Some family members spent all day Saturday at the hospital, while others shared their grief on social media.

Ernie Thomas, Rick Thomas' uncle from Dade City, wrote Saturday that he was praying for his nephew's family.

"I'll pray that his son comes out of this better than before," he wrote. "I'll pray that Ava is smiling, looking down on us."

A neighbor, Aline Bryant, 59, was reeling from the crash.

"It's a terrible tragedy," Bryant said. "I just told my husband, it could have been us with our granddaughter walking down the block. . . . It's just senseless."

Bryant said it's normal for neighbors, especially Lacey Thomas, to take walks in their rural neighborhood. She also said it's not unusual for cars to be driving fast or carelessly along Neff Lake Road.

"It's a dead-end street," she said. "People zip up and down. The speeding has been bad."

Perkins was arrested Friday night on charges of driving with a suspended license and causing serious injury. He also was ticketed for careless driving. Florida Highway Patrol Sgt. Steve Gaskins said Saturday that the charges could change now that Ava has died.

"We're still hoping the other child will pull through," Gaskins said.

State records show Perkins has a criminal history: He was convicted of defrauding a pawn broker, dealing in stolen property and grand theft. He was arrested on domestic violence charges in late January, but the resolution of that case was undetermined.

Troopers don't believe alcohol was a factor in the crash.

Bryant said she has seen Perkins driving the Jaguar in the neighborhood for the last month.

The homes on Bryant's road have a private lake for residents behind the houses. The Thomas children often play on her dock. She saw Ava recently, she said, when the children gathered around her husband after he caught a fish.

"They were so happy," she said.

Lacey Thomas' Facebook page shows each child's smiling face as they posed for photos in a giant Easter basket. She featured another photo of colored eggs: one for each member of the family, adorned with their name written in crayon. Ava's egg was blue.

Bryant and her husband said they will put up a cross and flowers to remember the little girl.

Contact Sara DiNatale at sdinatale@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3400. Follow @sara_dinatale.

This story has been updated to reflect the following correction: Authorities provided an incorrect age for Lacey Thomas. She is 24.

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