MILLCREEK — The political future of Senate Majority Leader Sheldon Killpack is unclear after he was arrested early Friday for investigation of DUI.
"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," the Republican from Syracuse said in a statement released by the Senate. "I am a firm believer in responsibility and personal accountability, and am prepared to accept all personal, legal and political consequences for my actions."
The Utah State Constitution contains a provision granting lawmakers "privilege from arrest" during a legislative session as well as 15 days before and after, "in all cases except treason, felony or breach of the peace … " The 2010 Legislature begins Jan. 25.
Killpack's attorney, Ed Brass, said he and co-counsel Kim Cordova were told by Killpack he "does not intend to avail himself of that provision, and he intends to go through the process as would any other citizen. However, we as his lawyers may have a different opinion and we will discuss that in the future."
Killpack, 41, was pulled over near 700 East and 3300 South about 12:15 a.m. after a member of the Utah Highway Patrol's DUI squad noticed a vehicle "with a poor driving pattern," said UHP Sgt. Jeff Nigbur. The vehicle was stopped in the parking lot of the Supersonic Car Wash.
"I made contact with the subject at the driver side door and requested the subject's information. I could smell the odor of alcohol coming from the subject's breath," a trooper wrote in a probable cause statement.
Killpack did not say who he was or whom he represented and the trooper didn't recognize him, Nigbur said. He also confirmed that there was a male passenger in the vehicle. Sources confirmed to the Deseret News that passenger was Mark Walker, a former lawmaker who was recently hired by West Valley City to work in economic development. Walker, who resigned the Legislature in the midst of an investigation into allegations he attempted to bribe an opponent in the state treasurer's race, also reportedly quit his new West Valley job.
Killpack had attended "Politics and Punches," a fundraiser for Rep. Greg Hughes, R-Draper, earlier in the evening but no alcohol was served at the event held in a Murray karate studio, according to House Speaker Dave Clark, R-Santa Clara. Clark said he attended an afternoon meeting with Killpack and saw him at the fundraiser, but did not see him leave.
The trooper asked Killpack to perform the standard field sobriety test, which he did before allegedly refusing to breathe into a portable breath tester. After Killpack was arrested and his car impounded, he then refused to take a second breath test. At that point, UHP officials obtained an "E-warrant," which allowed them to take his blood.
Killpack was booked into the Salt Lake County Jail for investigation of DUI, a class B misdemeanor, and unsafe turn/lane change, a class C misdemeanor. He was released to Pretrial Services, which means he has agreed to appear at his first scheduled court date and will be returned to jail if he fails to do so.
Results of the blood test can take two to four weeks to obtain. The UHP reiterated in a statement to the media that Killpack is innocent until proven guilty.
"It is unfortunate that this has occurred and that the Utah Highway Patrol had to make the arrest," the statement reads. "With that being said, no one is above the law and we must treat this like any other DUI-related arrest. Senator Killpack has done many great things for this state and its citizens."
Nigbur said he wouldn't go into other details of the incident but said he was confident in the trooper's judgment.
"We get people who refuse a lot," he said. "It's important to understand that once you refuse, we have to make a decision based on what we have in front of us. These guys know what they're doing and they do it well. We feel pretty confident with what we've done."
Brass, however, said it's not clear his client did refuse to take the test. "He may have been asking for more information at the point the officer deemed it a refusal." People in that situation, he said, "don't always understand their rights and obligations and have to make a quick decision by the side of the road."
Senate President Michael Waddoups, R-Taylorsville, said he spoke with Killpack briefly Friday.
"He sounded down. Contrite. He wanted to get to his family to discuss it with them," Waddoups said in a telephone interview from Florida, where he's attending a conference of Senate presidents.
Waddoups said they did not talk about the details of the arrest but he offered Killpack his support. "He said, 'I'm a man and I can handle this like a man.' But it's stressful."
He said Killpack's father was killed by a drunken driver when Killpack was a teenager. Waddoups said he was not aware Killpack even drank alcohol. Killpack is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which admonishes members to abstain from alcohol.
"I'm shocked," Senate Majority Whip Scott Jenkins, R-Plain City, told the Deseret News. "Sheldon, I just think the world of him. He is one fine individual. What would cause this is beyond me."
The situation could cost Killpack his leadership post, Jenkins said.
"Our caucus, we're a very rambunctious group of people," Jenkins said. "I think it's a possibility. Republicans, we pride ourselves in taking care of our problems."
The Senate GOP caucus is scheduled to meet Jan. 20, and Waddoups said, "I'm sure it will be a major discussion item."
The Senate leader said Killpack, who has served in the Senate since 2003 and won a second four-year term in 2008, also has to answer to his constituents. That could be difficult, Waddoups said. Elected officials have lost their positions "on much worse issues than this in other places," he said.
"But in Utah, he has to represent his constituency, and they're a pretty conservative group up there in northern Davis County."
Killpack is vice president of Academica West, a company that provides business management and support services for charter schools.
State GOP Chairman Dave Hansen said in a statement that while Killpack "has served his district and the state with distinction. … 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."
Hansen said the party stands ready to work with Killpack, Senate leadership and others "to deal with this unfortunate and unexpected situation."
The state Democratic Party took the opportunity to criticize a Republican leader.
State Democratic Party Chairman Wayne Holland said in a statement that Killpack's "decision to refuse to comply with the investigating police officer's request for (a) breath test shows that he did not deal with this in a responsible, forthright manner. … We expect that there will be consequences for his leadership position and his position as (co-) chair of the Senate Ethics Committee."
Contributing: Bob Bernick Jr.