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State senator from Wichita 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.
Sen. Gene Suellentrop in Shawnee County District Court for his plea hearing.

Republican state Sen. Gene Suellentrop pleads guilty to 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 I-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 at noon on Nov. 18.

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 — who represents west Wichita and west Sedgwick County — 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 “doughnut 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 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 did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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. 

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