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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

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