Sedgwick County Commissioner Michael O’Donnell was in a group of people that got into a Sunrise Christian Academy van in Kansas City this month, a source told The Eagle.
A Sunrise van parked near a stadium for a Kansas City Royals game was later pictured on social media with alcohol in the back, and the school said the van had been loaned improperly, “without the school’s consent or knowledge.”
O’Donnell would not comment to numerous inquiries about the matter.
His father, who is also named Michael O’Donnell, said his son went to a Royals game that weekend. He said his son indicated he did not provide alcohol to anyone and that no one in his group, celebrating his 33rd birthday, was underage.
A photo posted on Snapchat showed a van parked outside Arrowhead Stadium with whiskey and a case of Busch Light beer in the back on Aug. 5. The van had a red Sunrise Christian Academy script logo on its driver side. It was parked in the same spot The Eagle’s source reported seeing Commissioner O’Donnell get in the van.
The school said in a since-deleted Facebook post that the vehicle had been loaned to someone and then loaned to another person without the school’s permission and knowledge. It said school officials “regret this entire incident and wanted to make it known that Sunrise in no way encouraged, knowingly allowed or will tolerate this behavior.” The school handbook classifies drinking alcohol as unacceptable conduct.
O’Donnell previously attended the private school in Bel Aire. His mother, Peggy, works at the school.
‘We were surprised’
A Newton-area resident, who spoke on condition of anonymity, saw a Sunrise van on the evening of Aug. 5, when the Royals’ Saturday game against the Seattle Mariners was rained out.
“It appeared to me that seven to 10 young men were getting in the back,” he said. “We were surprised just to see a Sunrise Christian Academy van in the parking lot.”
He saw a person who resembled the commissioner with a Royals jersey with “O’Donnell” on the back get into the passenger seat.
Someone in his group pulled up O’Donnell’s photo on their smartphone to verify that it was him, he said.
Another source said O’Donnell indicated he was taking several friends by van to a Royals game in Kansas City to celebrate his birthday, which was the day after the rained-out game against Seattle.
‘He didn’t bring any’
O’Donnell’s father, the senior pastor at Grace Baptist Church near Pawnee and Seneca, said he did not ask his son how he traveled to the game.
“I don’t know if he had the Sunrise van,” O’Donnell said of his son. “I don’t want to say for sure he never had it.”
“When I talked to him about it, I didn’t even ask, ‘Hey, was that the van? Were you there?’” he added.
His church sent a church van, a mini-van and a different Sunrise van driven by the church’s youth pastor to Kansas City for the Saturday game, the pastor said.
After the photo went viral, O’Donnell said he asked his son if he provided alcohol to anyone and if anyone in his group was underage. Both answers were no.
“All I know is he didn’t bring any alcohol up there,” O’Donnell said of his son. “The guys he was with might have brought it for tailgating. He did not.”
“These were all college buddies … From my understanding, they’re all in (their) mid-20s,” he added. “He said, ‘No, dad, these are guys I met from Lawrence.’”
O’Donnell said he asked his son those questions because of “that problem we had before.”
While in the Kansas Senate last year, O’Donnell provided alcohol to a birthday party attended by Wichita State University fraternity members and others who may have been underage. Wichita police later closed an investigation into that incident because of a lack of evidence.
‘I have no comment’
O’Donnell, the county commissioner, did not return multiple calls and messages from The Eagle.
He refused to meet with a reporter in the commission office twice last week. O’Donnell said both times that he would not comment, but did not specify what he was not commenting on.
The Eagle asked him last Friday by e-mail if he was loaned a Sunrise van by a school employee, if he traveled to Kansas City in a Sunrise van, if he bought alcohol seen in the photo and if he owned a custom “O’Donnell” Royals jersey. O’Donnell replied: “I have no comment.”
He also didn’t respond to questions after a county meeting in the downtown courthouse this week.
Sunrise superintendent Rob Lindsted would not say who was loaned the van that weekend.
“I don’t know what business I have to tell you who it is,” Lindsted told The Eagle. “I don’t have anything more to say.”