Topeka — A Kansas state representative died in a one-car accident in Wabaunsee County just hours after the 2012 legislative session concluded.
Bethell, 69, a Republican from Alden, died Sunday night when his car went off Interstate 70 near the Paxico exit in Wabaunsee County. The Kansas Highway Patrol said Bethell's car hit several trees, overturned and ended up on it roof in the accident just west of Topeka.
Bethell was alone in the car and on his way home to central Kansas after legislators completed work for the year during a contentious session that went nine days longer than scheduled.
Master Trooper Jeremy Harwood said the accident remains under investigation but witnesses said Bethell's car appeared to be traveling at the posted speed limit of 75 miles per hour when it drifted right and went off the road. Harwood said an autopsy was being conducted, which could help determine whether Bethell suffered a medical emergency that caused the crash.
Gov. Sam Brownback ordered flags across Kansas lowered Monday until after Bethell's funeral, expected later in the week. Brownback issued a statement, calling Bethell "a man of deep faith and passion for his family and state."
"In the Legislature, Bob led by example," Brownback said. "Those who knew Bob will remember him as warm and affectionate, and that his family, friends and state always matter more to him than anything else."
Bethell had represented the 113th district since 1999. The district covers Rice County and parts of Reno and Barton counties. He served as chairman of the House Aging and Long-Term Care Committee, which dealt with issues related to senior citizens, health care and nursing homes.
House Speaker Mike O'Neal said he was "shocked and saddened" by Bethell's death.
"He was a valued member of our caucus and valued fellow member of our Reno County delegation," said O'Neal, a Hutchinson Republican. "We benefited from his experience with aging and long-term care issues, and he will be sorely missed."
Attorney General Derek Schmidt described Bethell as "a tireless advocate for the interests of Kansas seniors." Bethell served on the attorney general's Senior Consumer Advisory Council.
"I am deeply saddened by the tragic death of our friend," Schmidt said. "Kansas is diminished by Bob's death, and we will miss him."
Rep. Bob Grant, a Frontenac Democrat, worked with Bethell each year to raise money for Kansas Special Olympics. Legislators hosted a shrimp peel and auction.
"Bob Bethel was a great guy and a great legislator. I thoroughly enjoyed him as a friend," Grant said. "I'm sure going to miss him because we had a lot of fun with the Bob and Bob Show with the Special Olympics."