After eight convictions, Wake woman finally charged with habitual DWI
Posted May 17
Updated May 18
Raleigh, N.C. — Court records show Penny Seagroves has been convicted eight times for impaired driving since 2001: four times in Wake County and once each in Durham, Franklin, Granville and Edgecombe counties.
Based on her record, the Zebulon woman could have been prosecuted as a felon six times for habitual drunk driving, yet all of her convictions have been for misdemeanor DWI. She has spent a total of 24 months in state prison.
When WRAL Investigates began asking authorities about her case, Wake County's District Attorney Lorrin Freeman took another look at it, and a grand jury on Tuesday indicted Seagroves on a charge of habitual drunk driving.
Seagroves was arrested Tuesday evening and was being held in the Wake County jail under a $50,000 bond.
"I honestly really do think she is dangerous to society, to the community," said Seagroves' daughter, Faye Lopez.
Lopez contacted WRAL Investigates after Seagroves was charged with DWI again, this time in Wake County in February.
"It's an endless battle," Lopez said. "She never wants to stop, and I don't think she's ever going to stop until she takes her own life or until she takes someone else's, honestly."
WRAL Investigates first looked into Seagroves' record five years ago when the state rolled out a new program that gave police officers roadside access to more court records. During a traffic stop, an officer found Seagroves was wanted in four different counties on five drunk driving charges.
"She would move us from house to house to house to actually avoid being arrested," Lopez said. "She would go under different aliases all the time."
In her eight convictions, Seagroves was identified in court records by seven different names, which is why she never faced a habitual DWI charge previously. Franklin County authorities said recently they missed her prior convictions when she was convicted of DWI there in 2013 – her most recent conviction.
A new law enforcement computer system, called Criminal Justice Law Enforcement Automated Data Services, or CJLEADS, would help connect the dots in such cases, but it's still being rolled out across the state.
Court records from the February arrest show that, at 8:48 a.m., Seagroves had a blood-alcohol level of 0.09, above the level at which drivers are considered impaired in North Carolina. Because of her previous DWI convictions, she didn't have a license, so the car she was driving was seized.
But that hasn't stopped her from driving. A WRAL News crew watched her get into a car and drive away from work earlier this month, although court records show she doesn't have a license or special privileges to drive.
Court records also reveal more than 50 prior charges of driving with a revoked license and driving a car that's not properly registered or insured. All were dismissed.
"I believe that stronger laws need to be enforced," Lopez said.
Rep. Darren Jackson, D-Wake, wants to strengthen the state law on habitual DWI offenders. A bill he filed last year, which cleared the House but remains in a Senate committee, would reduce the number of DWI convictions needed before a habitual DWI charge can be filed against a driver.
"The goal is to protect the public safety by getting her off the road but also get her the help she needs," Jackson said.
Yet, he acknowledged there's only so much law enforcement and the courts can do to make people follow the rules. He called Seagroves' case "heartbreaking" and said he fears it could have a tragic ending.
"When you see someone do this over and over again, it's just a matter of time before they kill someone," he said.
Seagroves declined to comment about her driving record when a WRAL News crew spotted her driving home last week.
"If people want to call me a rat, it's OK, but I'm saving somebody's life today," Lopez said.
For Lopez, alcohol abuse has already taken a toll on her family. She was charged with DWI years ago and said she nearly died from drinking, and her sister is serving serving nine years in prison for a drunk driving crash in Harnett County that killed a passenger in her car.
Lopez said she hopes lawmakers, police and court officials hear her story for the sake of the community and her mother.
If convicted of felony habitual DWI, Seagroves could be sentenced to about two years in prison.