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Senate Majority Leader Sheldon Killpack resigned from the Utah Senate on Saturday, a day after he was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence.

The Syracuse Republican issued a statement Saturday afternoon saying that after discussing his options with his family and trusted friends, he decided to leave the Legislature.

"My heart weighs heavy. I have a tremendous amount of respect for the legislative process, my legislative colleagues and for my constituents. At this time the Legislature would be a distraction from what is most important and, frankly, I find that I have become a distraction to the Legislature," Killpack said. "In light of that, I have decided to tender my resignation as majority leader and as a Utah state senator, effective immediately.

"I am sincerely grateful and touched for the outpouring of support and love expressed to my family by so many of my constituents and friends," he said. "Thank you."

The gregarious Killpack, 41, had been the face of the Senate Republicans and carried hefty legislation, including spearheading ethics and health-care reforms. He was widely seen as a potential candidate for higher office, although he scoffed at the notion and had asked Gov. Gary Herbert not to consider him for the lieutenant governor post.

The senator, whose father was killed by a drunken driver when Killpack was a teenager, also had supported and sponsored drunken-driving measures.

Killpack -- who is a member of the LDS Church, which eschews alcohol -- had been attending a boxing-themed fundraiser for Rep. Greg Hughes, R-Draper, on Thursday evening, but no alcohol was served at the event.

Several hours later, Killpack was stopped at 3300 South and 700 East after a Utah Highway Patrol trooper noticed his vehicle being driven erratically just after midnight. The trooper detected "a strong odor of alcohol" and asked Killpack to perform field sobriety tests.

Killpack 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 the Salt Lake County jail at 2:45 a.m. and released about two hours later.

Results from the blood tests could take two weeks to a month.

In the car with Killpack was former Rep. Mark Walker, a lobbyist who had quit the Legislature and later plead guilty to an elections-law violation stemming from his attempt to induce his opponent in the state treasurer's race to drop out. Walker resigned his job with West Valley City's economic-development department Friday.

Senate President Michael Waddoups, R-Taylorsville, said he had talked to the other two members of his leadership team and they asked whom he wanted as majority leader and Waddoups told them, "I want Killpack. That's how I feel. He's been a great leader, but I have to respect his wishes and his family's."

Waddoups said he left the decision to Killpack and did not advise him one way or the other on the matter.

"I told him it was a personal matter," Waddoups said, "that he should decide it in consultation with his family, and I'd support him if he stayed and I'd support him if he left."

Sen. Dan Liljenquist, R-Bountiful, who is close with Killpack, said he feels "a deep sadness" over his colleague's departure.

"He's tremendously talented and one of my earliest supporters and best friends," Liljenquist said. "I respect the decision and I respect his desire to take responsibility for his actions, and his priorities are where they should be -- with his family. Honestly, I think it's a commendable thing."

Killpack was appointed to the Senate in 2003 and elected in 2004. He won re-election in 2006 and was due to seek another term this year.

If he had stayed in the Senate, he could well have faced the prospect of an ethics inquiry. In the past, four legislators who have been charged with crimes all have resigned from the body rather than face an ethics investigation.

The Utah Constitution contains language that may extend immunity to lawmakers during the session and 15 days before and after, although the provision has not been tested and Killpack has said he does not plan to invoke the privilege.

"What happened was not in character, considering the service he has given to the state, and that's the unfortunate thing, but we certainly respect his decision," said Utah Republican Party Chairman Dave Hansen. "It's a sad and tragic situation and I'm sure it was difficult for him to make, but probably for the good of everybody."

Killpack's Democratic counterpart, Minority Leader Pat Jones, said Killpack's situation was unfortunate and "seems quite uncharacteristic for him."

"I'm sure he weighed it very carefully, and that was his decision to make," the Holladay lawmaker said. "It would have been very hard to function and do your job when that cloud is over your head."

Rep. Curtis Oda, R-Clearfield, said he believes Killpack "could have overcome this."

"But he felt this was the right decision," Oda said. "I respect that. "

Oda described Killpack as a quick study who "hit the floor running" when he joined the Legislature.

"Had it not been for Sheldon," Oda said, "a lot of Legacy [Parkway] might not have happened."

Davis County Republican Party Chairwoman Shirley Bouwhuis said Killpack called her Saturday morning to notify her of his decision. The party still has to work out details of the special election to replace him, but is under pressure because the 2010 Legislature convenes Jan. 25.

"I have to say that I am impressed still with his integrity. We all make mistakes, and he absolutely is taking responsibility for his actions," Bouwhuis said. "I told him that what happened that night -- which was wrong and he knows it -- I do stand by the fact that he has brought distinction to Davis County by the way he has served."

Tribune reporter Jeremiah Stettler contributed to this story.

Finding a new senator

Davis County Republican Party Chairwoman Shirley Bouwhuis said Saturday that plans to replace Sen. Sheldon Killpack still are being finalized.

County delegates in Senate District 21 -- which includes Syracuse, Clinton, West Point, Clearfield and part of Layton -- will meet and select the replacement from a slate of candidates.

Registered Republicans in the district who have lived in the state for three years and in the state for six months are eligible.

The name of the winner of the election will be sent to the state GOP, which will submit it to Gov. Gary Herbert, who formally appoints the replacement.

Last year, Davis County Republican delegates in neighboring District 22 selected transportation commissioner Stuart Adams to replace Sen. Greg Bell, who was chosen by Herbert to be lieutenant governor.

Robert Gehrke

About Sheldon Killpack

Age » 41

Family » Wife Nicole; four children.

Legislative service » Appointed to Utah Senate in 2003; won election in 2004; re-elected in 2006; chosen as Senate majority leader before the 2009 session; resigned Saturday after an arrest on suspicion of drunken driving.

Major bills » Pressed for tougher drunken-driving laws; introduced a bill to enact more rigorous ethics rules; sponsored legislation implementing Utah's health-reform efforts, criminalizing mortgage fraud, and to facilitate development near military installations.

Profession » Vice president of Academica West, which develops charter schools