Senate majority leader arrested, released after allegedly driving wrong way on I-70

President, vice president of Senate pray for sidelined GOP colleague

By: and - March 16, 2021 8:26 am

Senate Majority Leader Gene Suellentrop was booked into Shawnee County Jail at 3:55 a.m. Tuesday. (Shawnee County Jail)

TOPEKA — Senate Majority Leader Gene Suellentrop didn’t report for duty Tuesday after the Wichita Republican was released from the Shawnee County Jail where he was taken for allegedly being under the influence of alcohol or drugs while driving a vehicle the wrong direction on Interstate 70.

Suellentrop was booked into jail at 3:55 a.m. after pulled over on I-70. He was taken into custody by Capitol Police, a division of the Kansas Highway Patrol, following a pursuit that ended near Eighth Street in Topeka. He was apparently uncooperative at the scene and was transferred to jail on suspicion of driving under the influence and other offenses.

Senate Majority Leader Gene Suellentrop, a Wichita Republican, was arrested and released Tuesday after taken into custody in Topeka fon suspicion of driving under the influence.  (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)
Senate Majority Leader Gene Suellentrop, R-Wichita, was arrested and released Tuesday after taken into custody in Topeka on suspicion of driving under the influence after pulled over going the wrong way on I-70. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

He appeared before a Shawnee County District Court judge by video link in handcuffs, jumpsuit and COVID-19 mask on suspicion of DUI, fleeing or attempting to elude a law enforcement officer, speeding, improper crossover on a divided highway and improper driving. He was released by court order, but didn’t appear at the Capitol when the Senate gaveled into session for the day.

“He’s out with no charges. There was an arrest, I know this to be factually true, for DUI,” said Senate President Ty Masterson, a Republican from Andover. “I’ve heard tons of rumors, some of which I know to be false.”

Suellentrop was granted freedom by Judge Penny Moylan, who found insufficient probable cause to support the arrest. She pointed to lack of information on a report presented the court. The judge’s action doesn’t preclude prosecution of the Senate’s No. 2 Republican. The KHP is responsibe for forwarding an investigative report of the ncident to the district attorney in Shawnee County.

It’s not clear when Suellentrop might return to work at the Capitol where the Legislature has entered a period of heavy workload to move a session that started in January to conclusion. The Senate was expected to proceed with other Republicans taking over Suellentrop’s leadership duties.

Senate Vice President Rick Wilborn, R-McPherson, issued a joint statement with the Senate president that described the incident leading to arrest of Suellentrop as “certainly serious and very unfortunate.”

“We will continue to pray for Gene and his family as we gather more information,” the statement said. “The Senate continues to do our work on behalf of the people of Kansas.”

Suellentrop, 69, serves on the Senate’s budget committee but his role as majority leader places him in the position of coordinating what bills run on the Senate floor and the timing of that action. He was selected by GOP peers in the Senate to be majority leader in voting that occurred in December following the general election.

He has served in the Senate since 2017, representing a district that includes Andale, Colwich and parts of Goddard, Maize and Wichita. He was a member of the Kansas House from 2009 to 2017.

In the Capitol, Suellentrop has the voting record of a conservative. He is opposed to abortion, supports gun rights and a cap property taxes. He’s advocated for an “end to corporate welfare” where politicians pick business winners and losers. He also is an advocate for choice in terms of public education.

Suellentrop, the fourth of 13 children, has said he expanded a small food service business into a five-state enterprise and created hundreds of jobs. He’s also sought to eliminate burdensome government regulations that stifle economic development.

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Sherman Smith
Sherman Smith

Sherman Smith is the 2021 and 2022 Kansas Press Association’s journalist of the year. He has written award-winning news stories about the instability of the Kansas foster care system, misconduct by government officials, sexual abuse, technology, education, and the Legislature. He previously spent 16 years at the Topeka Capital-Journal. A lifelong Kansan, he graduated from Emporia State University in 2004 as a Shepherd Scholar with a degree in English.

Tim Carpenter
Tim Carpenter

Tim Carpenter has reported on Kansas for 35 years. He covered the Capitol for 16 years at the Topeka Capital-Journal and previously worked for the Lawrence Journal-World and United Press International. He has been recognized for investigative reporting on Kansas government and politics. He won the Kansas Press Association's Victor Murdock Award six times. The William Allen White Foundation honored him four times with its Burton Marvin News Enterprise Award. The Kansas City Press Club twice presented him its Journalist of the Year Award and more recently its Lifetime Achievement Award. He earned an agriculture degree at Kansas State University and grew up on a small dairy and beef cattle farm in Missouri. He is an amateur woodworker and drives Studebaker cars.