There were nights, during the first few weeks after his cousin’s death, when Nick Nemec just couldn’t sleep.
Sometimes he’d reach out to others by phone, just to talk. He called me on one of those nights as he stood on the wide porch of his two-story farm home west of Holabird, admiring the clear skies and shining stars above.
The familiar, peaceful scene stood in bizarre contrast to the events of another night along Highway 14 a few miles from the Nemec farmhouse. You might know the story: Just west of Highmore, shortly before 10:30 p.m. on Sept. 12, a Ford Taurus driven by South Dakota Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg struck and killed 55-year-old Joe Boever of Highmore as he walked along the shoulder of the road.
The next day, Nick Nemec and his brother, Victor, were called to identify the body of their cousin, Joe, who was “a gentle soul,” Nick says, with a cordial demeanor and a gift for remembering people’s names and “rescuing ailing houseplants.”
The emotional burden of identifying their cousin’s body was compounded by daylight stops at the crash scene, where the tire marks and blood stains were clear.
It all led to some restless nights.
“I guess I just need to talk,” Nick said that night he called me. “I can’t stop thinking about my cousin, and the way he died.”
We know quite a bit about that, but we still don’t know the whole story. The investigation continues almost 11 weeks after Joe Boever died. Authorities have concluded that Joe Boever was walking on the shoulder and carrying a light when he was struck by Ravnsborg’s vehicle, and that Ravnsborg was distracted at the time of the crash. They haven’t reported the reason for the distraction.
It’s unclear whether Ravsnsborg will face criminal charges. And there are questions about Ravnsnborg’s call to a 911 dispatcher, in which he said he hit something “in the middle of the road.” At first he told the dispatcher that he didn’t know what he hit, but then said “it could be” when the dispatcher asked if it was “a deer or something.”
Then there’s the unanswered question of why Boever’s body was not discovered. Rather, Boever was left at the scene throughout the night. Ravnsborg said he looked around with his cell-phone flashlight but didn’t see anything. Hyde County Sheriff Mike Volek came to the scene in response to the 911 call but didn’t find Boever’s body, either. Volek then loaned Ravnsborg his private car to drive home to Pierre.
So Joe Boever was left lying in the ditch, where Ravnsborg says he discovered the body the next morning when he came back and stopped at the scene.
Such images and such questions can lead to sleepless nights. And on some of those nights, Nick Nemec did more than call family and friends. He went to the scene.
“When Joe got hit, it was a moonless night. Or at least it was before the moon rose. And so it was a dark night,” Nick says. “And I went to that site on moonless nights just to get a handle on what you’d see. “
Then he drove the route that Ravnsborg drove, through Highmore from the east, picking up pace as the reduced speed limit returned to 65, and approaching the accident scene with lights on bright, then on dim.
He tried to imagine what Ravnsborg could have seen that night.
“Certainly with lights on bright and, I’d contend, with them on dim, a driver would be able to see a human being walking along the shoulder of the road,” Nick says. “Somebody walking on that shoulder would have been visible, especially with a light.
“My cousin was doing everything he was supposed to do as a pedestrian in that situation,” he says. “He was walking on the shoulder the way he should have been. And he had a light.”
It’s a lot for a guy to think about as he stands on his porch on starry nights, waiting for the investigation to conclude and lingering questions to be answered.
And with every passing day, and night, the wait gets more difficult.
Kevin Woster writes a blog and offers radio commentary for South Dakota Public Broadcasting. He can be reached by emailing email@example.com.