WRAL Investigates

After eight DWI convictions, Wake woman pleads guilty to being habitual drunk driver

Posted July 7, 2016 10:36 a.m. EDT
Updated July 7, 2016 5:00 p.m. EDT

— A Wake County woman with eight convictions for impaired driving in 15 years pleaded guilty Thursday to habitual DWI and was sentenced to at least 19 months in prison.

Penny Seagroves, 56, was the focus of a WRAL Investigates story in May that documented her driving record and questioned why she had never been charged with a felony. Within an hour of the story airing, she was arrested on a felony charge of habitual drunk driving.

Wake County Assistant District Attorney Jason Waller said in court Thursday that Seagroves was pulled over by a deputy in February after someone called to report a woman drinking beer outside a convenience store at 8:30 a.m. She failed field sobriety tests, Waller said, and two hours later, she registered a 0.09 blood-alcohol content, which is above the level a driver is considered impaired under North Carolina law.

Since 2001, Seagroves has been convicted of DWI four times in Wake County and once each in Durham, Franklin, Granville and Edgecombe counties. All of those convictions were misdemeanors, and she has spent a total of 24 months in state prison.

Her daughter, Faye Lopez, told WRAL Investigates that Seagroves used several aliases over the years to avoid prosecution and also moved the family frequently to avoid arrest.

"You obviously have a serious alcohol problem," Superior Court Judge Donald Stephens told Seagroves. "There's nothing I can do to correct your problem. You're going to have to do that, if you choose to do so."

Seagroves, who hid her face as she entered the courtroom, didn't say anything in court, other than respond yes or no to Stephens' questions.

Stephens sentenced her to 19 to 32 months in prison, with credit for the two months she's been behind bars since her May arrest. He also ordered her to receive substance abuse counseling in prison.

"Anytime you have somebody who, despite continual convictions of DWI, continues to engage in that behavior, they’re a real risk to public safety," District Attorney Lorrin Freeman said after the court hearing. "This is reckless behavior. It’s behavior that shows disregard for the rest of the community."

As part of a plea deal, a charge of driving with a revoked license was dismissed.

Lopez, who first informed WRAL Investigates about her mother's driving record, called the sentence a slap on the wrist and said she worries her mother will be out of prison in two years and will be back on the roads driving drunk.