Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Driver arrested in Odessa faces DUI, weapons charges

ODESSA — When he was 30 and living in Reno, William Pennypacker stabbed his roommate five times in front of a 10-year-old boy.

The roommate died. Pennypacker washed the blood from his hands and knife and went to a friend's house. During his murder trial, his attorney told the jury his client was a problem drinker who killed in self-defense. He was acquitted.

Thirty years later, Pennypacker was driving around Odessa with a car full of guns, ammunition and something that looked like a bomb.

It was Thursday evening, on the tail-end of rush hour, and the now 60-year-old, kindly looking Pennypacker caused a tiny part of the world to shut down.

Deputies say Pennypacker's blood alcohol level was more than three times the legal limit when he crashed his car into a building at the Gunn Highway Flea Market in Odessa. He was able to drive away and parked at a Hess gas station around the corner. When the law came to investigate, deputies found a loaded handgun under a hat on the front passenger's seat. Two rifles, plus much ammunition, lay elsewhere in the car.

They also found what appeared to be a bomb — a pipe with suspicious wires.

The area was evacuated and a bomb squad called in. The Hess station and nearby 7-Eleven were closed. Gunn Highway was blocked off for hours, as well as nearly all of State Road 54. Television camera crews and reporters flocked to the area.

As the world around him froze, Pennypacker slurred and stumbled through his field sobriety tests with a Florida Highway Patrol trooper, admitting to him that he was drunk. He was whisked away to the Land O'Lakes jail at 6:45 p.m., more than two hours before the scene returned to some kind of normalcy.

The pipe turned out to just be a pipe and not a bomb.

The gas stations opened again about 10 o'clock.

Pennypacker gave a cheery half-smile in his booking photo. He wasn't wearing a shirt.

He had his first court appearance Friday and said he needs a public defender. Pennypacker faces a slew of charges — driving under the influence, carrying concealed weapons and leaving the scene of an accident. He is being held in the jail in lieu of $5,665 bail, according to the Sheriff's Office.

He lists his job as contractor and says he was born in Pennsylvania in 1948. He says his home address is in Lakeland and his business address is on Beachway Lane in Odessa, 2 miles from where he caused a ruckus. Records show he was divorced in 1995. The Lakeland address might be his mother's home. Other than Thursday night's ordeal, he has had no other arrests in Florida, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

The killing of his roommate happened on April 26, 1979, inside a trailer he and two other men shared on Whitehorse Drive in Reno. According to stories written at the time by the Reno Gazette-Journal, Pennypacker and a roommate, Bob Sydnor, began horsing around.

In court, Sydnor, 30, was described as "a mean son of a gun" who wanted to provoke Pennypacker into a fight. Sydnor slapped him twice — so hard, Pennypacker thought his nose was broken. His face was bloodied. At some point, Pennypacker grabbed a knife and stabbed Sydnor five times. The other roommate — who witnessed the killing, along with his 10-year-old son — called for an ambulance. Pennypacker was arrested shortly afterward at a friend's home nearby.

In the news stories, Pennypacker was described as a roofer, carpenter and also an "itinerant artist, musician and sometime craps dealer" who had a drinking problem. If convicted, he could have spent his life in prison. After a five-day trial, the jury deliberated for four hours before acquitting Pennypacker.

It was the first acquittal in Washoe County of a murder charge in 15 years. Jurors interviewed later said they thought it was self-defense and that Pennypacker, who looked nice and clean-cut in court, just got in with the wrong crowd.

He spent nine months in jail awaiting his trial. He was released after 10 p.m. on a February evening. He smelled the air and told his lawyer these few breaths outdoors were the best he'd ever taken, and then he left into the night with his girlfriend; his time jail behind him, off toward his future.

Times researcher Shirl Kennedy contributed to this story. Erin Sullivan can be reached at esullivan@sptimes.com.

Driver arrested in Odessa faces DUI, weapons charges 03/13/09 [Last modified: Friday, March 13, 2009 8:57pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Encounters: Trial by storm for a rookie principal

    K12

    DUNEDIN — When he nodded off to sleep, the hallway lights outside Michael Vasallo's office were on, so the sudden darkness woke him.

    The glow of his desk phone dimmed.

    Michael Vasallo, right, the first-year principal at Dunedin Highland Middle School, talks with the school's head plant operator Clint Case near the back-up generator on campus. The generator failed just as Hurricane Irma passed through Pinellas County, making for a stressful night. The experience made Vasallo long to return to his regular job, educating middle schoolers. [COLEEN WRIGHT   |   Times]


  2. Who is in charge during a hurricane? Hillsborough County and Tampa still can't agree

    Hurricanes

    TAMPA — Who has the authority to order an evacuation during a hurricane?

    Mayor Bob Buckhorn says he has evacuation authority.
  3. Gators rally past Kentucky, streak hits 31

    Blogs

    LEXINGTON, Ky. — For the second week in a row, Florida found itself storming the field in a game that came down to the last second. A 57-yard field-goal attempt by Kentucky kicker Austin MacGinnis came just a few feet short of making history and snapping a 30-year losing streak, as the No. 20 Gators escaped a …

    Florida wide receiver Brandon Powell (4) scores a touchdown during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Kentucky, Saturday, Sept. 23, 2017, in Lexington, Ky.
  4. Pen makes it way too interesting as Rays hang on for 9-6 win

    Blogs

    A couple of home runs provided the news pegs of the night for the Rays, but it was more topical to talk about what nearly happened as they hung on for a 9-6 win over the Orioles.

    Lucas Duda's three-run homer in the third inning was the Rays' record-breaking 217th of the season, as well as his …

  5. An attempt to project what Rays will look like in 2018

    The Heater

    BALTIMORE — We know what the Rays look like this year: a team that had enough talent but too many flaws, in construction and performance, and in the next few days will be officially eliminated from a wild-card race it had a chance to win but let slip away.

    Adeiny Hechavarria, high-fiving Lucas Duda, seems likely to be brought back.