Colleagues remain critical of Gene Suellentrop despite decision to give up some duties
A move by Senate Majority Leader Gene Suellentrop, R-Wichita, to relinquish some of his leadership duties after his high-profile arrest Tuesday for charges of allegedly driving under the influence did not go far enough for at least one of his colleagues, as the incident continues to hang over the legislative session.
Suellentrop allegedly drove for roughly 10 minutes in the wrong direction of Interstate 70 in downtown Topeka, with officers from the Kansas Highway Patrol’s Capitol Police in pursuit for sev. He was released Tuesday morning after a judge found there was "pertinent information" not contained in the arrest report.
His move to hand over his day-to-day duties to another member was made "out of respect for Senate leadership, my Republican colleagues, and the entire Kansas Senate," Suellentrop said in a statement.
He will step aside in the day-to-day functions of his job until "matters that I am currently dealing with are resolved."
Senate President Ty Masterson, R-Andover, praised Suellentrop’s decision in a statement of his own, calling it a "prudent decision."
But Sen. Rob Olson, R-Olathe, was of a different mind, arguing that Suellentrop should “do what is best for the caucus.”
In his view, the announcement Wednesday did not yet satisfy that standard. Olson noted he was more sensitive to the matter than some of his colleagues, as a friend had family killed and sustained injuries in a car crash caused by a drunk driver.
“I don’t think that is what is best for the caucus,” Olson said Thursday morning. “He is keeping his position of power … What I’m hearing is, if this was an average joe they’d be sitting in jail. (Constituents) feel like we’re above the law. The laws need to apply equally.”
He pointed to 911 calls reporting the vehicle, allegedly driven by Suellentrop, which were obtained by multiple media outlets, including the Capital-Journal, Wednesday.
“It is pretty obvious he could have killed someone and hit them head-on,” Olson said.
Multiple callers reported a white SUV going eastbound in the westbound lane of I-70 at roughly 12:45 a.m Tuesday, according to tapes of the 911 calls released by Shawnee County Dispatch.
At least one driver told operators that the vehicle, allegedly belonging to Suellentrop, nearly hit him and "scared the crap out of me." One officer pursuing the car also said he was nearly struck in the process.
Officers from the Kansas Highway Patrol's Capitol Police unit attempted to stop the vehicle. When they were unsuccessful, a roughly five-minute pursuit ensued, according to the police radio.
Officers can be heard closing parts of I-70 to traffic and attempting to deploy a device intended to deflate the vehicle's tires, to no avail.
Suellentrop was eventually stopped about 10 minutes after the incident was reported, according to the radio. He was charged with an alleged misdemeanor DUI, as well as charges of fleeing or attempting to elude law enforcement, speeding, improper driving on a laned roadway and improper crossover on a divided highway.
But a Shawnee County District Court judge found there was no probable cause to support the charges during an initial hearing hours later, saying "pertinent information" wasn't included on the arrest report.
Suellentrop was released from custody after the hearing. A KHP spokesperson said case information had been forwarded to the Shawnee County district attorney.
The KHP's general counsel denied a request from the Topeka Capital-Journal to obtain a copy of the arrest report, as well as any video footage of the arrest. The first page of the report will be made public over the course of the next 10 days.