UPDATE, 2/28, 5:30pm:
After posting this story, we received a return phone call from Alex Wunrow, the former Nebraska legislative page who posted on the Nebraska Watchdog comment section. He confirmed his identity and had this say:
“I was a page at the time so [Lautenbaugh] asked me to go down to his office to get him some ice so he could drink a cold Diet Coke. When I opened the freezer, I saw the handle of a bottle of Captain Morgan [rum] in there. And then when I grabbed a Diet Coke from the fridge there was a case of either Bud or Miller Light. I know for a fact that he drinks in his office. All of the senators joke about drinking, but he was the only one I knew for a fact had alcohol in his office.”
Wunrow is a student of Advertising and Public Relations at UNL.
Early Wednesday morning, Omaha Senator Scott Lautenbaugh, 48, was only two miles from his home when he was stopped by a Douglas County sheriff’s deputy for driving erratically on West Maple, a major four-lane road. He was taken into custody and at 2:27 a.m. was given a breath test. His blood alcohol concentration (BAC) registered at 0.234—nearly three times the legal limit. Lautenbaugh was ticketed for driving under the influence, his car was impounded, and his driver’s license was confiscated. When asked by the Omaha World Herald how he got home and where he had been drinking, Lautenbaugh said only that he had been “out with some friends” and did not want to involve them.
Under a Nebraska law enacted in 2012, Lautenbaugh’s license will be suspended for up to 6 months after which an ignition interlock device will be installed in his vehicle, making it impossible to start the car without first passing a Breathalyzer test. Probation is ordinarily offered to first offenders in lieu of the recommended 7 to 60 days in jail and a $400 to $500 fine, but because Lautenbaugh’s BAC was over 0.15 he may face stricter penalties. The provisions of the law were passed unanimously by the Transportation and Telecommunications Committee, which covers motor vehicles, drivers licensing, and rules of the road, in March 2011—with Lautenbaugh as a member of the committee.
Under the Nebraska Constitution, however, members of the legislature are privileged from arrest during the session. Lautenbaugh has been issued a temporary license to travel between his home in West Omaha and the State Capitol. He has pledged to seek “immediate alcohol evaluation” and, in June, to “let the legal process take its course, accept my punishment, and work to put this behind me.”
This is Lautenbaugh’s first DUI offense; however, allegations of his drinking while in session have already begun to surface. “I was a page at the legislature last year and one time Lautenbaugh sent me [for] a cup of ice from the freezer in his office,” a commenter on the Nebraska Watchdog website identified only as Alex claimed yesterday. “Any guesses as to what I found in the freezer? A bottle of Captain Morgan.” Indeed, Lautenbaugh’s BAC suggests someone with a high tolerance. For a man of his size (estimated, conservatively, at 250 pounds) to reach 0.234 BAC would require roughly 14 drinks in the three hours before he got behind the wheel. At this level, Creighton University estimates an average person would need assistance in walking, would be disoriented, and would be nauseous with likely vomiting. Most people would blackout. With an estimated increase to BAC of 0.02 per drink, Lautenbaugh was just one drink shy of blood alcohol poisoning. Lautenbaugh issued a statement, apologizing to family and “everyone else I have disappointed with this incident.”
Among those disappointed must surely be state senator Charlie Janssen of Fremont. Lautenbaugh’s arrest came barely a week after introducing Janssen as a candidate for Governor. The DUI citation is also another black eye for current governor Dave Heineman, as Lautenbaugh, first appointed to his seat by Heineman in 2007, becomes the second Heineman appointee to be involved in a scandal in the last month. Earlier this month Lieutnenant Governor Rick Sheehy resigned from office after the Omaha World-Herald reported that he made thousands of late-night calls to four women other than his wife on his state-issued cellphone. “As public officials, we are rightly held to a higher standard,” Heineman said in response to Sheehy’s resignation. “I had trusted him, and that trust was broken.” As of this writing, Heineman has issued no comment on Lautenbaugh being ticketed for DUI.
Lautenbaugh’s LB 456, allowing draft beer purchased at restaurants to be carried and consumed off premises, is scheduled for public hearing at 1:30 on Monday. Sara Draper, a program specialist with Nebraska Mothers Against Drunk Driving (M.A.D.D.), was troubled to hear that Lautenbaugh intends to proceed with LB 456. “Any law allowing an open container is of concern to us,” she said, “because it doesn’t teach responsible behavior when it comes to drinking and driving.” In response to Lautenbaugh’s DUI citation, she said, “We find it interesting that he proposed an open container law and then got caught drunk driving a few weeks later.” When reached for comment, Senator Lautenbaugh’s staff said that the senator was unable to take questions, as he was in committee, but confirmed that Lautenbaugh would be present at the hearing on Monday.
Call and email Sen. Lautenbaugh, tell him to pull the irresponsible LB 456. As citizens we also want to know if other elected officials were with him at the time of the DUI or the heavy drinking that happened. We call on Sen. Lautenbaugh to ask Sen. Janssen for any campaign donations he helped raise for his upcoming race for Governor be returned.