Sen. Gene Suellentrop to serve two days in jail with more probation in plea deal over DUI incident

Andrew Bahl
Topeka Capital-Journal
Sen. Gene Suellentrop will serve two days in jail as part of a plea deal stemming from his April wrong-way drunken driving incident on Interstate 70 in Topeka, with the remainder of his sentence suspended in favor of a year of probation.

Sen. Gene Suellentrop will serve two days in jail as part of a plea deal stemming from his March wrong-way drunken driving incident on Interstate 70 in Topeka, with the remainder of his sentence suspended in favor of a year of probation.

The Wichita Republican was originally charged with felony eluding law enforcement and misdemeanor driving under the influence and reckless driving.

As part of the deal, Suellentrop pled no contest to the DUI and reckless driving charges, with prosecutors dropping the felony charge. 

Shawnee County District Court Judge Jason Geier sentenced Suellentrop to nine months in jail, but that sentence will be suspended in favor of probation after the lawmaker completes a 48-hour term jail term, which he is scheduled to do in November. 

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Suellentrop had a blood alcohol level over twice the legal limit when he was was stopped and arrested in the early morning hours of March 16 after driving the wrong way on Interstate 470 and then I-70 for upward of 10 minutes.

At least one driver told 911 operators the vehicle nearly struck him and at least two other callers reported seeing the car in the wrong lane. Law enforcement twice attempted to use a so-called tactical vehicle intervention, or a maneuver of halting a speeding vehicle, both times to no avail.

While Suellentrop was ousted from his position as Kansas Senate majority leader in April, the lawmaker didn't respond to questions about whether he would resign his seat while exiting the courtroom Monday. A felony sentence would have disqualified him from serving in the body.

Senate President Ty Masterson's office said Monday they didn't plan on commenting on the matter.

Suellentrop apologizes, takes ‘full responsibility’ for actions

In a brief statement to the court, Suellentrop apologized for his actions and vowed he wouldn't repeat the mistakes. 

"There are many lessons to be learned from circumstances like these and I can assure you I've learned my fair share," Suellentrop said. "I take full responsibility for my actions and I apologize for my actions. You will not see me in this court or any other court of law for similar infractions in the future."

Suellentrop's attorney, Tom Lemon, said the case "is serious and thank God no one was hurt."

But he said the case "took on a life of its own." Lemon argued that a transcript of video taken from the night of Suellentrop's arrest didn't show some of the more high profile details from police records. 

This was a potential reference to Suellentrop allegedly calling the Kansas Highway Patrol officer who arrested him "donut boy," details documented by the trooper in a criminal affidavit released earlier this year. Lemon didn't specify which allegations he was referring to, only calling certain aspects of the case to be "salacious."

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"Once he figured out what was going on, he was not argumentative, he was not combative, he was not disagreeable," Lemon said of the night of Suellentrop's arrest. "He was, frankly, what I would expect for a 69-year-old intoxicated man dealing with a younger trooper."

Lemon added he wasn't making excuses for the lawmaker's conduct and said he had confidence Suellentrop would meet all the probation conditions.

Those will include eight therapy sessions, a substance abuse court and the use of an ignition interlock device. He will also have to pay $991 in fines, fees and court costs. Lemon said during the hearing that Suellentrop applied for the county's diversion program, where participants can have their charges dismissed upon completion but was denied.

In meting out the sentence, Grier said he couldn't take into account outside factors, including the considerable attention the case gained statewide and nationally. Observers from as far away as Wichita drove to Topeka on Monday for the hearing.

"Speaking ... from the court, I am not allowed to ethically consider these outside factors," Grier said, noting it was common practice that he accept the outcome of any plea deal where no coercion or fraud took place.

Casey Meek, an attorney for the firm Joseph, Hollander and Craft who handles DUI cases, said the resolution to this case was a normal one. He noted the prosecution would have had to prove five separate traffic violations occurred while law enforcement was pursuing Suellentrop in order to secure a felony conviction — something he argued was a high bar.

Meek added he didn't believe Suellentrop got special treatment because of his status as a legislator.

"Obviously, there are some extenuating circumstances," Meek said. "But, you know, this wasn't a backroom handshake — 'Hey, let's do this type of deal.' I think it played out fairly typical."

Andrew Bahl is a senior statehouse reporter for the Topeka Capital-Journal. He can be reached at abahl@gannett.com or by phone at 443-979-6100.