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Kansas Senate majority leader was drunk in police chase, called an officer ‘Donut boy,’ authorities say

Kansas state Sen. Gene Suellentrop (R) is stepping away from most of his duties as majority leader following his arrest on suspicion of driving under the influence and attempting to flee law enforcement. (Andy Tsubasa Field/AP)
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Early on March 16, a highway patrol officer chased a white SUV speeding the wrong way down the interstate outside Topeka, Kan., watching as it careened toward oncoming traffic, causing other cars to swerve and nearly collide.

After a 10-minute chase, a patrolman finally pulled the SUV over and found Kansas Senate Majority Leader Gene Suellentrop (R) behind the wheel. As officers waited on a blood test, which later showed him at more than double the legal blood alcohol limit, he allegedly lashed out at police.

“All for going the wrong way,” Suellentrop said to the state highway patrol officer who had arrested him, according to an affidavit. “Donut boy.”

As a phlebotomist took a blood sample, 69-year-old Suellentrop also allegedly told Kansas Highway Patrol Officer Austin Shepley that he would beat him in a fight.

“He looked me up and down stating he played state sports competitively" in high school, Shepley wrote in the affidavit, which was reported by the Topeka Capital-Journal and other local media on Thursday. “He stated he could ‘take me.’”

After being charged with a felony for eluding police, Suellentrop announced that he would pass most of his leadership duties to Assistant Majority Leader Sen. Larry Alley (R), the Kansas City Star reported. But Suellentrop has retained his title and a nearly $500 biweekly stipend that comes with the majority leader role.

The state senator’s first court date is set for June 3. If convicted of a felony, Suellentrop would be banned from holding elected office in Kansas. Suellentrop did not immediately respond to a message from The Washington Post late on Thursday.

The details in the case released on Thursday left Democrats calling for Suellentrop’s ouster and spurred Republicans to concede that severe consequences would be “unavoidable.”

“While Senator Suellentrop deserves due process and appropriate consequences for his irresponsible behavior, he also deserves to be held to the same level of accountability as the Kansans he has been elected to represent,” state Senate Minority Leader Dinah Sykes (D) said in a statement Thursday, KSNT reported. “I am disappointed that he has not come to this conclusion himself.”

As one of the top Republicans in the state senate, Suellentrop represents western Wichita, the state’s largest city, and its nearby suburbs. He was elected to serve as senate majority leader in January. Before joining the state senate in 2017, Suellentrop spent eight years in the state House. The longtime legislator was a strict fiscal conservative and loyal political ally to Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback (R).

The traffic incident began after midnight on March 16, when a driver phoned 911 after a near miss with a white SUV traveling the wrong way down Interstate 70.

“They about hit me, but I’m okay. I’m fine,” the caller told an emergency dispatcher, the Kansas City Star reported.

At least two other drivers also called 911 to report nearly being hit by the SUV. “They were in the wrong lane and they met coming up the on-ramp and scared the crap out of me,” a second caller said, the Star reported.

Following the emergency calls, Shepley drove his police cruiser west down I-70 until he spotted the SUV in the wrong lane, the affidavit said. The officer watched as two cars nearly collided with it.

Shepley turned his cruiser’s lights on and pursued the SUV, driving as fast as 90 mph in a 65 mph zone, according to the affidavit. The SUV did not stop, continuing to drive erratically and in the wrong direction.

Twice, the officer attempted to stop the SUV using a “tactical vehicle intervention.” On the second attempt, after a 10-minute pursuit, the officer succeeded and the driver finally pulled over, police said.

Shepley approached the SUV with his gun drawn and told the driver to turn the vehicle off. According to the affidavit, the driver did not immediately comply with the officer’s directions to kill the SUV’s engine.

“As I approached the driver, he had his left hand out the window and looked back at me with a confused, frightened, blank stare,” Shepley wrote. “He was not registering my commands or responding to them.”

Shepley holstered his gun and reached into the vehicle to switch the engine off. According to the affidavit, the officer could smell “the odor of an alcoholic beverage” inside the SUV. Shepley pulled Suellentrop out of the SUV and placed him in handcuffs before placing him in the police cruiser’s passenger seat.

The affidavit said Suellentrop struggled to keep his balance, his eyes were “watery, droopy, and … blood shot,” and he mumbled and slurred his speech. Suellentrop declined to speak with the arresting officer after being read his Miranda rights, the affidavit said. Shepley then escorted the lawmaker to be processed and booked into custody.

Suellentrop declined a breathing-based sobriety test. Police sought a warrant to obtain a blood sample to test for alcohol, and a phlebotomist was called to draw his blood for testing.

The tests later showed that Suellentrop’s blood alcohol concentration was 0.17, according to the affidavit, more than double the legal limit of 0.08.

As details of the incident have been revealed to the public through local media reports over the last month, elected leaders in the state have called for political consequences. Suellentrop’s fellow Republicans hinted that the party’s senate leadership might change after the current legislative session ends in May.

“While we continue to respect due process, there are many aspects of the alleged behavior that are deeply disappointing, and severe consequences will be unavoidable,” Senate President Ty Masterson (R) said in a statement Thursday, WIBW reported. “With just a few days in the session remaining, we will finish up our work with Sen. Larry Alley fulfilling the duties of the majority leader. Any decisions regarding the future will be made in due course.”