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Kansas state senator gets 48 hours in jail, probation for wrong-way drunk driving on I-70

Sen. Gene Suellentrop in Shawnee County District Court for his plea hearing.
Blaise Mesa
Kansas News Service
Sen. Gene Suellentrop in Shawnee County District Court for his plea hearing.

Republican state Sen. Gene Suellentrop was sentenced for two misdemeanors and avoids a felony conviction for charges of drunk driving, going the wrong way on I-70 and evading police.

TOPEKA, Kansas Republican Kansas Sen. Gene Suellentrop pleaded no contest Monday to misdemeanor drunk driving and reckless driving charges after he was arrested earlier this year for driving drunk the wrong way on Interstate 70 in Topeka and evading police.

The agreement means a felony charge of evading police is dropped. The sentence orders Suellentrop to spend 48 hours in jail as well as 12 months on probation. He reports to the Shawnee County Jail Nov. 18 at noon.

Suellentrop will also pay a $775 fine and will have an ignition interlock device, a breathalyzer-type machine, on his vehicle to ensure he remains sober.

The plea won’t immediately mean the end of Suellentrop’s political career. State law says anyone convicted of a felony can’t hold public office, but the plea deal means Suellentrop will only be convicted of misdemeanors.

An officer said Suellentrop drove the wrong way on I-70 in Topeka and other cars swerved to avoid a crash on the highway. The statement said Suellentrop raced to avoid police and later called an officer “donut boy” and said he could “take” the officer in a fight.

Thomas Lemon, Suellentrop’s attorney, argued for probation because of a clean criminal record. He said previous “salacious” details of the case painted Suellentrop in a negative light.

“All other aspects of his life are in good shape,” Lemon said.

Suellentrop didn’t speak with reporters after leaving the courtroom, but said during the hearing that he won’t have any future legal troubles.

“There are many lessons to be learned in circumstances such as these,” Suellentrop said. “I can assure you I learned my share.”

He didn’t respond to a question about whether he would stay in office.

Before his arrest in March, Suellentrop, from Wichita, was one of the most powerful conservative Republican lawmakers in the Statehouse, holding the job of Senate majority leader.

Republicans already stripped him of his leadership position in April after court documents alleged dangerous belligerence the night of the arrest.

There are ways the chamber can remove members, but Republican Senate President Ty Masterson previously said it’s up to the voters in Suellentrop’s district to decide his fate.

“The chamber has no business determining who represents this district,” Masterson said in April. “We think that’s best left to the people who elected him.”

Masterson’s office declined to make any further comment on Monday.

Blaise Mesa reports on criminal justice and social services for the Kansas News Service in Topeka. You can follow him on Twitter @Blaise_Mesa or email him at blaise@kcur.org.

Stephen Koranda is the news editor for the Kansas News Service. You can follow him on Twitter @Stephen_Koranda or email him at stephenkoranda (at) kcur (dot) org.

The Kansas News Service is a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, KMUW and High Plains Public Radio focused on health, the social determinants of health and their connection to public policy. 

Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished by news media at no cost with proper attribution and a link to ksnewsservice.org.

Blaise Mesa is based in Topeka, where he covers the Legislature and state government for the Kansas City Beacon. He previously covered social services and criminal justice for the Kansas News Service.
As the Kansas News Service managing editor, I help our statewide team of reporters find the important issues and breaking news that impact people statewide. We refine our daily stories to illustrate the issues and events that affect the health, well-being and economic stability of the people of Kansas. Email me at skoranda@kcur.org.
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