TOPEKA, Kan. -- One of the Kansas Legislature's most powerful lawmakers was charged Friday with driving under the influence and a felony offense for trying to elude law enforcement while speeding the wrong way on highways in Topeka.
Senate Majority Leader Gene Suellentrop faces five criminal charges, including the felony count, the misdemeanor DUI count and a misdemeanor count of reckless driving. The Wichita Republican turned himself in at the local jail Friday evening, and his bond has been set at $5,000.
Mike Kagay, the Republican district attorney in Shawnee County, announced the charges, which stem from Suellentrop's early-morning arrest last week on Interstate 70 just blocks east of the Statehouse.
Suellentrop holds the state Senate's second-highest leadership job, and the majority leader decides which proposals are debated each day. Suellentrop announced last week that he was stepping away from most of the majority leader's duties until matters surrounding his arrest are resolved.
The Senate's top leader, President Ty Masterson, and its No. 3 leader, Vice President Rick Wilborn, both Republicans, issued a joint statement saying that they are talking to GOP senators “about how to proceed most effectively.”
“We are thankful that no one was injured,” they said, “and we continue to pray for Gene and his family.”
Suellentrop did not return a message seeking comment Friday evening. His attorney, Tom Lemon, also did not return a telephone message.
Suellentrop was arrested at about 1 a.m. March 16 by the Capitol Police division of the Kansas Highway Patrol.
Law enforcement radio recordings and 911 calls released by the local sheriff's department in response to an open records request showed multiple people reported Suellentrop's white SUV traveling the wrong way on I-470 near a south Topeka exit. That highway loops around the west side of Topeka and connects with I-70, which cuts through the northern half of the city.
“They about hit me, but I'm OK. I'm fine. They're not near me, but they're going the wrong way,” one 911 caller said. “I mean, they weren't driving reckless — I'm not trying to say they're driving reckless — but they were in the wrong lane, and it's just, they met me coming up the on-ramp and scared the crap out of me.”
Kagay said in a news release that Suellentrop was the SUV's only occupant and that a patrol trooper initiated a “tactical vehicle intervention” to stop him on I-70 as he was driving east in the westbound lanes. Law enforcement radio recordings indicated that the trooper put down “stop sticks,” which deflate a vehicle's tires.
The law enforcement recordings show that Suellentrop was driving for at least 11 minutes.
“He almost hit me,” one officer reported.
Suellentrop was booked into the local jail after his arrest, but a judge released him hours later, saying the arrest report did not contain information needed to hold him. The patrol's general counsel said Thursday that it did not have a document on the arrest that it could make public.
The charge of attempting to flee law enforcement is a felony that can be punished by between five and seven months in prison for a first-time offender, though the presumed sentence is a year's probation. The DUI charge is punished by at least 48 hours in jail or 100 hours of public service. The reckless driving charge is punished by between five and 90 days in jail and a fine of up to $500.
The remaining two charges filed against Suellentrop are traffic infractions, speeding and driving the wrong way on a divided highway.
Suellentrop, 69, is a business owner who was appointed to fill a vacancy in the Kansas House in 2009. Voters elected him to the Senate in 2016 and reelected him last year. Fellow Republicans chose him as their majority leader in December.
His public duties during the Senate's daily sessions — such as asking senators to start a debate, requesting that they adjourn and announcements about the GOP's plans — are currently being handled by Assistant Majority Leader Larry Alley, a Winfield Republican.
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