MIAMI (Reuters) - The family rescued from a car accident by George Zimmerman, days after he was cleared of wrongdoing in the fatal shooting of unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin, canceled plans to thank him publicly because they fear being linked to someone reviled by many Americans, Zimmerman's lawyer said on Wednesday.
"The family, who really wanted to thank George for doing what he did publicly ... realized that in any way connecting yourself with George Zimmerman is right now very toxic," Mark O'Mara, Zimmerman's lead attorney, told CNN.
O'Mara, underscoring the amount of hate directed toward Zimmerman, spoke after canceling a planned news conference with the family, where he said Zimmerman was due to be recognized as a "Good Samaritan."
Zimmerman helped pluck two children and their parents to safety from a Ford Explorer sport utility vehicle on Wednesday last week, after it overturned in an accident on a central Florida highway, authorities said.
The incident occurred barely four days after Zimmerman, 29, was acquitted by a Florida jury of murder and manslaughter in the killing of Martin, who he claims to have shot in self-defense.
Mark and Dana Michelle Gerstle, who were rescued with their children from the overturned SUV, have refused to talk to the media and have posted a "no trespassing" sign outside their central Florida home.
The verdict in the racially charged case has sparked protests in cities across the country, as well as calls to review Florida's "Stand Your Ground" self-defense law, which allows people who fear their lives are in danger to use deadly force rather than retreat.
O'Mara told CNN there had been a surge in the number of death threats against Zimmerman since his acquittal, which has left many people across the country angry.
He added, in an answer to a question from CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer, that Zimmerman, who is licensed to carry a concealed weapon, is armed and taking all due precautions to protect his personal safety.
"I think it's more important now than before February 26, 2012, that he have an ability to protect himself because of the extraordinary amount of anger that is out there. Yes, he's protecting himself," O'Mara said.
The date he cited was when Zimmerman shot the 17-year-old Martin through the heart at point-blank range with his 9mm semiautomatic Kel-Tec handgun.
That weapon, now in the custody of the U.S. Justice Department as it considers bringing civil charges against Zimmerman, will never be used again, O'Mara said.
"That gun will never be used by anyone again. That needs to be destroyed and just be done with," he said.
(Reporting by Tom Brown; Editing by Ken Wills)
(This story was refiled to fix typo in "through" in the eleventh paragraph)