Utah Senate majority leader arrested on suspicion of DUI
Utah Senate Majority Leader Sheldon Killpack, a proponent of tough drunken-driving laws whose father was killed by a drunken driver, was booked into jail Friday morning on suspicion of driving under the influence.
The incident is a blow to one of the state's brightest Republican stars, who had made a rapid rise through the Senate leadership, become the public face of the GOP majority, and had been widely discussed as a potential candidate for governor.
It remains to be seen if Killpack can hold onto his leadership position or his Senate seat -- or if he will even try.
"There will be those who may be upset enough they want to make a change [in the leadership post]. He may want to make a change," said Senate President Michael Waddoups, whose own wife was badly injured by a drunken driver. "I'll be supportive of whatever decision he comes to and he'll make a good one."
The Syracuse Republican was stopped at 12:17 a.m. at 3300 South and 700 East after his vehicle was noticed to be driven erratically, according to the Utah Highway Patrol. The trooper detected "a strong odor of alcohol" and asked Killpack to perform field sobriety tests.
Killpack, 41, performed the tests but refused to take a breath test. He was arrested, and police later got a warrant to take blood. He was booked into Salt Lake County jail at 2:45 a.m. and released about two hours later.
The UHP said blood test results could take two weeks to a month to get back.
UHP spokesman Sgt. Jeff Nigbur said there was one other man in the car, though he would not identify the individual since he had not been charged with any crime.
However, knowledgeable sources confirmed to The Salt Lake Tribune that the passenger was former Rep. Mark Walker, a lobbyist who had pleaded guilty to an election law violation for attempting to induce his opponent to drop out of the 2008 state treasurers race. Walker resigned from the House on the eve of an ethics investigation.
Paul Isaac, assistant city manager for West Valley City, said that Walker resigned his position with the city on Friday citing personal reasons. Walker had been working for a week in the city's economic development department.
Killpack had attended the "Punches and Politics" boxing-themed fundraiser earlier in the evening for Rep. Greg Hughes, R-Draper, but there was no alcohol served at the event.
In a statement, Killpack -- who is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which tells followers to abstain from alcohol -- publicly apologized.
"I am deeply sorry for the impact this incident will have on those who support and trust me -- my colleagues in the Senate, my constituents and, most importantly, my family," said Killpack, who also chairs the Senate Ethics Committee. "I am a firm believer in responsibility and personal accountability, and am prepared to accept all personal, legal and political consequences for my actions."
Killpack's father was killed by a drunken driver when the lawmaker was a teenager and he has sponsored and supported legislation aimed at cracking down on impaired drivers. He had sponsored legislation last year allowing drunken drivers to plead to a reduced charge if they go to DUI court and receive treatment, and he sponsored a law allowing the seizure of vehicles of habitual drunken drivers.
"Coming from a family who has lost a member as a result of somebody driving under the influence, a lot of times we hear about the inconvenience of something like this where you would lose a vehicle," he said during debate of the bill. "I would invite people to examine the inconvenience of someone losing a family member as a result of someone driving under the influence."
Killpack has hired defense attorneys Ed Brass and Kim Cordova. Brass said the senator is "mortified to be in these circumstances," but they have not discussed details of the arrest.
"He's exhausted, as you would expect from someone who has been up most of the night," Brass said. "He's just not in a place right now where talking about this to any great degree is helpful, because he's just physically worn down."
In a statement, Democratic Party Chairman Wayne Holland stressed that, while Killpack is innocent until proven guilty, "his decision to refuse to comply with the investigating police officer's request for breath test shows that he did not deal with this in a responsible, forthright manner."
"As a public figure, he knows that he will be held to a high standard. We expect that there will be consequences for his leadership position and his position as chair of the Senate Ethics Committee," Holland said.
Republican Party Chairman Dave Hansen said the situation is unfortunate, but, "It is inexcusable for anyone, especially those in positions of public trust to violate our laws. It is also against those standards which we as Republicans stand for and expect from those who represent our party."
Killpack was appointed to the Legislature in 2003, won election a year later and was re-elected in 2008 to a four-year term.
Early Friday morning, Commissioner of Public Safety Lance Davenport contacted Gov. Gary Herbert to notify him of the arrest as "a courtesy," according to the governor's spokeswoman.
Waddoups, who is in Florida, said he heard about the arrest from Herbert.
"Frankly what went through my mind is I thought maybe they had a mistaken identity thing, that they had another person with the same name. I was incredulous," said Waddoups.
Waddoups said he talked to Killpack. "He sounded very disappointed with himself. He sounded down. ... I'm sure it's hard for him."
Waddoups said Killpack has been "a great majority leader" and it will be up to Killpack and the Republican caucus to decide whether he continues in that role when they meet in a closed-door meeting Wednesday.
"It comes down more to what Sheldon thinks Sheldon should do," said Senate Majority Whip Scott Jenkins, R-Plain City. "Sheldon is a strong individual. He'll come out of this and he'll be strong and weather the storm. ... Whether that leaves him in a leadership position, I don't know."
If Killpack wants to keep his leadership spot, Jenkins said he would support him.
A provision in the Utah State Constitution protects legislators from arrest during the session and during a period 15 days prior to and following the session, but it has not been used in this state. The 2010 legislative session begins Jan. 25.
In a text message, Killpack told The Tribune "I have no intention of exercising those rights."
Scott Sherman, Cathy McKitrick and Jennifer W. Sanchez contributed to this report.
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