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Anti-DWI crusading lawyer ends up as victim of drunken driver

March 29th, 2012 News

By: Scott Sexton, Winston-Salem Journal
Published: March 29, 2012

Under ordinary circumstances, Courtroom 1A in the Forsyth County Hall of Justice is the place to go for folks charged with DWI, driving without an operator’s license, hit-and-run wrecks and the most egregious speeding tickets.

Knucklehead stuff, the cases almost always involve an automobile. And without fail, the defendants — and the victims — are unknown to the public.

Not so Tuesday. A familiar face, a personal injury attorney known by tens of thousands through television ads, billboards and a crusade against drunken driving, appeared in the courtroom.

Attorneys and police officers seated along the wall stood to greet David Daggett, victim in a pending driving while impaired and hit-and-run case.

The irony was impossible to miss.

Run-of-the-mill (mostly)

On its face, State v. Samantha Propst looked to be a routine affair. Sadly, the facts as presented in court during the probable cause portion of the hearing weren’t terribly outlandish — by traffic court standards, anyhow.

According to testimony, this is what happened:

Shortly after 6 p.m. the evening of Aug. 30, Daggett left his office on Country Club Road to pick up his daughter from field hockey practice. Near the intersection with Westview Drive, an older SUV traveling east suddenly veered and smashed into Daggett’s 2011 Lexus.

He got a look at the SUV and its driver. A witness who stopped to help called 911. Literally within minutes, other 911 calls reported a damaged, older model green SUV driving west on Stratford Road without a tire on its rim.

Callers updated police on the SUV’s progress and told dispatchers that its driver had pulled into a motel off Stratford near Interstate 40.

It didn’t take the deductive powers of Sherlock Holmes to figure out that the driver’s story of having an unexpected blowout near the mall didn’t hold water — especially when officers found her to be “lethargic” and with “slurred speech.”

Propst, 27, was placed in handcuffs, partly on the theory that because she was a suspect in a hit-and-run, she might bolt again. Officers gave her field-sobriety tests — she didn’t do well — and found syringes, prescription medicine and an aluminum can with burn marks consistent with drug use.

She was charged with DWI, hit and run, and possession of drug paraphernalia. Blood tests later revealed she had methadone, painkillers and traces of cocaine in her system.

Different vantage point

Daggett has made a name (and a nice living) for himself on the civil side of the courthouse as a plaintiff’s lawyer.

He has built his practice over 30 years by shrewd use of advertising. Let’s have a quick show of hands: How many of you have seen him in commercials, first for his old firm at Lewis & Daggett and now Daggett-Shuler? I’d wager that anyone who owns a TV in the Triad has seen him.

Daggett is also known in local high schools for his long-running sponsorship of Safe-and-Sober Prom Night, a campaign in which he urges kids to sign pledges to avoid drinking and driving on a traditional party night.

He, too, acknowledged the irony of his situation being both a victim and a witness in a case involving an impaired driver and some $14,000 in damage to his car.

“I’ve never been on this side of it before,” he joked before the case was called. “I may be committing malpractice by being on the criminal side of things.”

After initially asking for a trial — and having her attorney challenge the validity of her arrest — Propst pleaded guilty to all three charges.

She was placed on probation, fined and taken to the Forsyth County Jail to be booked on unrelated felony charges of breaking and entering, larceny, and possession of stolen goods.

“There’s a big piece of me that wishes I didn’t have to see her,” Daggett said. “My daughter would have been right there in the seat where she hit my car.”

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I am pleased to be working with them on my disability claim.

Tonya Miller