The Department of Public Safety is not disclosing some key details about the investigation into the attorney general who fatally hit a man while driving after attending a Republican Party event at a restaurant in eastern South Dakota.
Jason Ravnsborg, 44, reported hitting a deer Saturday night near Highmore but actually struck a pedestrian whose body wasn’t discovered until the next morning, DPS said in a Monday morning news release.
The pedestrian was later identified as Joe Boever, a 55-year-old man from Highmore.
The Highway Patrol, which is part of DPS, is leading the investigation but receiving assistance from the North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation.
The DPS spokesman, however, is not disclosing which agency is handling what parts of the investigation, including whether the state's top law enforcement official will be interviewed by fellow South Dakota public safety officials or ones from North Dakota.
"How duties are shared are internal decisions," Tony Mangan said.
Mangan also said he couldn't share the following information because it's part of an ongoing investigation:
- When and how Ravnsborg contacted the Hyde County Sheriff's Office to report hitting the deer;
- Whether Ravnsborg got out of the car after the crash to look for the deer and any damage to his car;
- If local law enforcement arrived to look for the deer on Saturday night;
- Whether Ravnsborg was driving a personal or state-owned vehicle;
- If Ravnsborg made it home to Pierre on Saturday night or had to leave his car somewhere and get a ride;
- Where and when on Sunday morning the victim was found, and by whom;
- Whether law enforcement found any parts of Ravnsborg's car on the road;
- If Ravnsborg has already been tested for drugs and alcohol, and if so when.
Mangan said he wouldn't be able to disclose this type of information at this stage of any investigation concerning a fatal crash.
What is known so far
Gov. Kristi Noem said at a Sunday afternoon press conference in Sioux Falls that Ravnsborg had been involved in a fatal crash around 10:30 p.m. Saturday on U.S. Highway 14 near Highmore. No other details were released at the time.
Ravnsborg was driving westbound on the highway in a 2011 Ford Taurus, according to the DPS news release on Monday. He called the Hyde County Sheriff's Office to say he hit a deer but law enforcement realized he hit a person when Boever's body was discovered the next morning.
“Most people when they hit a deer they stop and they call law enforcement,” Mangan said. “The majority of people” get out of their car if they suspect their car was damaged, he added.
Mangan said all aspects of the crash are under investigation, including whether it could be a criminal hit-and-run if Ravnsborg actually knew he hit a person.
“Alcohol and drug use is always checked” in crashes and the cars are always investigated, he said.
Mangan said the Highway Patrol communicates with state's attorney offices if a crash may be criminal, and the decision about whether to file charges usually goes to office of the county where the crash occurred.
Ravnsborg, who is serving his first term as attorney general, was driving to Pierre after attending the Spink County Lincoln Day Dinner in Redfield, said Tim Bormann, spokesman for the office. The event was hosted at Rooster’s Bar and Grill from 5 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., according to the South Dakota GOP's website.
Nick and Victor Nemec, who are brothers, said their cousin Boever was hit while walking to his disabled vehicle, which he'd crashed into a ditch and hay bale Saturday morning.
"My cousin got run over by the attorney general,” said Nick, a former state lawmaker.
“A deer doesn’t look like a human,” Victor added.
Nick, 62, and Victor, 58, said they were called to identify Boever’s body around 7:30 p.m. Sunday.
The brothers, farmers who live near Holabird, say they’re upset about how long it took for officials to ask them to identify the body.
Victor is afraid officials won’t share the truth about the crash.
“I believe the state is going to try to cover this up as much as they can. I don’t trust this state government,” he said. “This state is known for covering up wrongdoing of elected officials all the time.”
“We will handle this as we would any other fatal crash,” DPS Secretary Craig Price said during the Sunday news conference.
Price said he and the Highway Patrol will be leading the investigation, and Noem said Price will report directly to her.
The South Dakota’s Division of Criminal Investigation, which is part of the Attorney General’s Office, will not be investigating the crash in order to avoid the appearance or actual conflict of interest, Bormann said. Inspectors from the North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation — the equivalent of DCI — will be helping instead.
Bormann said Sunday evening that Ravnsborg “drinks lightly” and doesn’t believe he was drinking at the event.
Ravnsborg does have a history of speeding, according to the Argus Leader. He pleaded guilty to six traffic violations between 2014 and September 2018, just before he was elected to office. He was once pulled over for driving 85 mph in a 65 mph zone at midnight, records show. He was also cited for a seat belt violation and driving without a proper exhaust and muffler system.
‘A suspicious feeling’
Boever has no children and lived by himself after separating from his wife, Victor said. Boever was helping him at the farm since he was between jobs.
Boever “was quiet, quite the intellectual type of personality" and was most interested in philosophy and history, Victor said.
“He was just a very soft-spoken individual” and spent most of his time helping at Victor’s farm, said Nick.
Victor said he received a call from Boever around 7:50 a.m. on Saturday asking to be picked up on the highway since he had crashed his pickup into a ditch on U.S. 14 and hit a hay bale.
Victor said he arrived around 8:30 a.m. to find the damaged pickup and Boever, who said he had been on his way to visit him.
He drove Boever back to his home in Highmore where they spent around 30 minutes together. Victor left after telling Boever he would help him retrieve his pickup the next morning.
“That’s the last I saw him,” Victor said.
Victor said he called his cousin several times Sunday morning but Boever didn’t answer so he decided to drive over to his house around 9:30 a.m or 10 a.m.
He saw that Boever's pickup was still in the ditch on the north side of the road as he was driving to Highmore. He also saw something new near the truck: state troopers, sheriff's deputies, local volunteer firefighters and officials from the Department of Transportation. He also saw tarps on the ground.
Victor said a friend from Highmore said he saw a red vehicle bumper under one of the tarps but Victor didn’t see that himself. He said the same friend, who lives near the crash site, said he didn't hear any sirens on Saturday night.
Victor proceeded to Boever’s house and entered the home after his cousin didn’t come to the door when he knocked.
“He was nowhere to be found,” Victor said. “I was starting to get a suspicious feeling” since there was a car crash and Boever was missing.
Victor called the sheriff’s office to say Boever was missing and asked if he was involved in the crash. He said the office asked him when he last saw Boever and told him to wait at Boever’s house until someone arrived to speak with him.
No one arrived so Victor kept calling the office until they told him in the mid-afternoon to return to his house and wait for someone to meet him there. Again, no one showed up.
Nick said his brother called him around 5 p.m. to say that Boever was missing and since they knew about the crash, “we suspected it’s our cousin."
Victor said he was “getting anxious” so he called 911 in the early evening to make an official missing person report.
Victor said an investigator called around 7:30 p.m. to ask him to go to the funeral home in Highmore to identify his cousin. Victor called Nick and they drove to the funeral home.
Nick said he saw that the accident scene was a half-mile west of the junction of U.S. 14 and SD 47, the border of Highmore. He said the pickup was another half-mile west of the crash scene.
The brothers arrived at the funeral home and saw a van pull in, Victor said. The funeral home director, a state trooper and a BCI investigator took out a body bag and said Boever died in a car accident.
They “warned us as they were unzipping it that the body was damaged and they unzipped it enough where we could see the head and it was my cousin,” Victor said.
He said the officials asked them several questions but did not take formal statements.
“We were a little disgusted, angry because this was 22 hours after the accident" and “a good 10 hours after Victor had told them who the dead man was,” Nick said.
The brothers both believe Boever was hit while he was walking back to his truck, either to try to fix it or get something from inside it.
“I don’t know what he was thinking because they had made plans to go back on Sunday morning and get that pickup out of the ditch,” Nick said of the plans between Boever and Victor.
Nick said the area where his cousin was hit is either a 45 mph zone or right after it transitions into a 65 mph zone. Victor said the highway has a shoulder with gravel next to it before there is a ditch.
After IDing the body, Nick said, he drove to Boever’s house to lock it up. On the way back to his house he asked a state trooper if he could have Boever’s pickup, but they said it was being taken into evidence.
— Contact Arielle Zionts at firstname.lastname@example.org.