Driver in crash that killed 2 students charged with 4 DUIs in 2 years

Suspected DUI driver chased by police years before Briarcrest student crash

MARSHALL CO., MS (WMC) - The man charged in the crash that killed two Mid-South students and injuring two others was charged with four DUIs in two years.

The Marshall County Sheriff's Office says 32-year-old Melandus Penson had been charged with DUIs in Lee County, Pontotoc County, and Union County.

Deputies say Penson is from Beldon, Mississippi.

According to Debbie Berryman, Head Clerk for the Lee County Justice Court Clerk's Office, Penson has a DUI conviction and a pending DUI case set for trial in Lee County Justice Court. Both cases were handled by the Mississippi Highway Patrol and in both cases, the MHP officer charged Penson with DUI first offense.

In June 2012, Penson was arrested in Union County by Highway Patrol on Route 178. He was charged with DUI and spent two days in jail.

In 2013, Penson was arrested in Sherman after he attempted to flee from police and flipped his vehicle, according to Sherman PD chief Joel Spellins. He was charged with DUI, reckless driving, and fleeing from officers, among other things.

On July 5, 2014, MHP arrested Penson for DUI first offense at a DUI checkpoint on Highway 78 in unincorporated Lee County. He pleaded guilty to DUI on October 31, 2014 and was sentenced to a $808.50 fine. He is currently behind on the payments and owes $133.50.

On March 22, 2015, Penson was arrested by MHP again in unincorporated Lee County, but the arresting officer charged him with DUI first offense in spite of his conviction five months earlier for DUI first offense. His trial on the March DUI charge is set for July 9. He was also charged with having no driver's license and no proof of insurance in this incident.

"It's a preventable death that's out there, just because someone wants to make bad choices to drive when they are impaired"

Prosecutor Shirley Byers says since these DUIs were so close together in time, they were not seen in the system each time he was arrested. He was arrested four times as a first time offender.

"It may be flawed, but I can't say I have any suggestions," Byers said. "The way our system is now, once the paperwork goes through-- because it's not automatic--once you are convicted, it's not put online or anything, so it has to be filled out and piled and sent to Jackson. That's when it's put in the system"

, on Highway 78 near the DeSoto County line around 6 a.m. Sunday. A total of five people were in the car, four students and one of the student's grandmother.

Rachel Lynch and Maddie Kruse, both 17 years old, were rising seniors at Briarcrest Christian School. Two other girls in the car, Kara Holden and Caroline Kam, were injured in the accident, but are expected to recover. Kam's grandmother was driving the car; she is recovering from her injuries at Baptist DeSoto Hospital.

According to the Mississippi Highway Patrol, Penson is charged with two counts of DUI death and two counts of DUI injury. He is being held at the Marshall County Jail.

Byers says because of all of the close arrests, she is taking his most recent charge that killed Kruse and Lynch very seriously. She says she will be taking all of his offenses into account and that she is sure the D.A. will as well.

Copyright 2015 WMC Action News 5. All rights reserved.