South Dakota's attorney general who hit and killed a man with his car last month told a dispatcher he had “no idea” what he hit when he called to report the crash, according to the 911 call he made that night.
Jason Ravnsborg said in a Sept. 14 statement that he thought he hit “a large animal (likely a deer)” during the Sept. 12 crash near Highmore. But he says multiple times during the 911 call that he’s not sure what happened or what he hit, and only says it might have been a deer after being prompted.
“This … well … Ally, I’m the attorney general. And I am, I don’t know, I hit something,” Ravnsborg told a dispatcher named Ally when she asked how she could help.
“It was in the middle of the road” Ravnsborg said. “It sure hit me, smashed my windshield.”
“Do you think it was a deer or something?” the dispatcher asked.
“I have no idea,” Ravnsborg said with a laugh. “Yeah, it could be, I mean it was right in the roadway and …”
The transcript and an audio recording of the 911 call plus toxicology reports were released Tuesday afternoon after Gov. Kristi Noem and the Department of Public Safety Secretary Craig Price held a news conference in Sioux Falls a month after the crash. The event did not include a call-in option for the Journal and other West River outlets to ask questions.
Ravnsborg said he realized he killed Joe Boever, a 55-year-old from Highmore, when he returned to the scene the next morning and found him “just off the roadway.” He said he drove to the Hyde County Sheriff’s nearby home to report the body instead of calling 911 on that day.
The attorney general said he stopped by the scene to look for the deer he thought he hit. He said he was in Highmore to return the personal vehicle that Sheriff Mike Volek let him borrow to drive home to Pierre the night before.
A preliminary autopsy report found Boever died from traumatic injuries due to being hit by a vehicle, Price said Tuesday. “Injuries were extensive, both internally and externally.”
The crash happened at 10:30 p.m. on Sept. 12 and Ravnsborg provided a blood sample for a drug and alcohol test around 1:30 p.m. the next day, Price said. Ravnsborg had no substances in his blood at that time, according to toxicology reports from the North Dakota state crime lab.
But due to the 15-hour testing delay, the lab results don't reveal whether Ravnsborg was drinking before the crash, and if so, whether it was above the legal limit of a .08 blood alcohol content. The average person’s BAC goes down .015% each hour, Price said.
Ravnsborg said he was not drinking at the Lincoln Day Dinner he attended in Redfield before the crash. The two top officials from the Spink County Republican Party also say Ravnsborg wasn’t drinking.
Nick Nemec, Boever’s cousin, says he calls a DPS spokesman every Monday to ask about the status of the investigation.
“Every week his standard reply is ‘the investigation is ongoing’ and I thank him and remind him how many days it’s been since the crash,” Nemec told the Journal.
Nemec said his brother saw proof the investigation is ongoing when he saw Highway Patrol and a North Dakota official back at the crash scene on Monday.
“It just seems like it’s dragging out a long time and I don’t know if that’s because it’s a high-profile elected official involved or what the issue is,” he said. “In my deep, dark sleepless nights I contemplate the fact that he’s a Trump elector and wonder if they’re trying to push things off until after the election,” Nemec said.
Price said Highway Patrol aims to complete fatal crash investigations within 30 days but some take longer. He said the Highway Patrol is still waiting for the complete autopsy results, which are expected to be ready in several weeks. The investigation is also being slowed down since North Dakota officials helping with the case have to travel to South Dakota, Price said. The North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation is taking over a role that is usually conducted by an agency under Ravnsborg's control.
“There's a lot of work that’s still being done in this investigation and progress is being made,” Price said. The goal is to “put a full picture together of the facts that can be objectify reviewed for the benefit of everybody involved.”
“We felt that today was the best time to release the information,” Price said of why DPS shared the 911 call and toxicology information on Tuesday rather than when it was ready last month. He said releasing the information now won’t impact the ongoing investigation.
The complete investigation will be shared once it’s complete, Price said.
Price revealed several new details about the timeline and investigation.
The crash occurred around 10:30 p.m. on Sept. 12 near Highmore and Ravnsborg said he returned home to Pierre around midnight. He said he left Pierre around 8 a.m. the next day, which means he would have arrived in Highmore and discovered Boever’s body around 8:50 a.m.
The Highway Patrol arrived to secure the crash scene around 10:30 a.m. and the blood sample was taken around 1:30 p.m. Price said.
The Highway Patrol and North Dakota BCI officials documented the scene and began conducting forensic mapping, Price said. Forensic mapping, which is part of crash reconstruction, creates a map of the scene by documenting road measurements, tire marks and other physical evidence.
Price said victim advocates with the Highway Patrol have been in contact with Boever's family. Nemec confirmed that the advocates have been in touch with Boever’s widow. She did not return a message from the Journal.
Price declined to comment on whether Volek should have taken Ravnsborg’s BAC the night of the crash but said Highway Patrol troopers began working on obtaining the test as soon as they arrived at the scene the next morning. Ravnsborg said he provided the blood sample without a warrant.
The secretary cited the ongoing investigation when not responding to questions about why Ravnsborg and Volek didn’t find Boever that night, whether Boever was walking to or from Highmore, if Boever’s BAC was taken, and whether Ravnsborg had been driving outside his lane before hitting Boever.
Price also cited the ongoing investigation as to why DPS hasn’t released a photograph of Ravnsborg’s vehicle. KELOLAND obtained photos of a car that appears to be Ravnsborg's red Ford Taurus with a broken windshield on the passenger side.
Noem said she has not spoken with Ravnsborg since the crash. Noem, who does not have power to remove Ravnsborg from his position, also said she never asked him to voluntarily step down.
“I won’t weigh in on that” Noem said when asked if Ravnsborg should take a paid leave during the investigation.
The Attorney General’s Office says Ravnsborg is continuing to work, including by overseeing a meeting of the state commission that disciplines law enforcement for ethical and legal reasons.
Noem did not answer a question about whether her office would work to make sure the Hyde County deputy state’s attorney publicly explains her charging decision when the time comes. Emily Sovell did not return messages from the Journal.
Sovell has asked the Pennington, Minnehaha and Beadle county state’s attorneys to help her evaluate the evidence. State laws will make it difficult to prosecute Ravnsborg due to laws that place a high level of responsibility for safety upon pedestrians and the strict requirements needed to charge a driver, South Dakota News Watch reported.
Sovell runs a private law firm while serving as the elected Sully County state’s attorney and deputy state’s attorney in Hyde County. Her father, Merlin Voorhees, is the state’s attorney.
— Contact Arielle Zionts at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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