South Dakota AG details role in fatal crash: 'I didn't see what I hit'

Joseph Boever's body was discovered Sunday morning.

September 15, 2020, 5:14 PM

After initially telling authorities that he thought he hit a deer, South Dakota Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg released at statement late Monday night, detailing his role in a fatal accident and revealing that he discovered the victim when he returned to the scene the next day.

Ravnsborg, 44, said he was traveling west on U.S. Highway 14, about a mile west of Highmore, South Dakota, in a Ford Taurus when he unknowingly struck and killed Joseph Boever, 55. Boever's body was found the next morning, according to the highway patrol.

"My chief of staff and I checked and it was apparent that Mr. Boever was deceased," Ravnsborg said in the statement. "I immediately drove to Sheriff Volek's home to report the discovery and he accompanied me back to the scene. Once there, the sheriff instructed me that he would handle the investigation, and asked me to return to Pierre."

"However, it has come to my attention that there are many rumors and stories being told and reported which do not represent a full and factual account of what happened," he added, noting that he would not answer any questions about the matter until after the official investigation.

He said, "I didn't see what I hit," but stopped his vehicle immediately to investigate.

"I immediately called 911 to report the accident and the Hyde County Sheriff came to the scene," he said. "I looked around the vehicle in the dark and saw nothing to indicate what I had hit. All I could see were pieces of my vehicle laying on and around the roadway. Because it was dark and I didn't have a flashlight, I used my cell phone flashlight to survey the ditch but couldn't see anything."

The investigation is being handled by the South Dakota Highway Patrol and the North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation, officials told reporters Tuesday.

PHOTO: South Dakota Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg speaks to reporters in front of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, Sept. 9, 2019.
South Dakota Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg speaks to reporters in front of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, Sept. 9, 2019.
Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP, FILE

The medical examination of Boever's body was conducted in Ramsey County, Minnesota, on Monday. South Dakota's pathologist is out of state and not available. South Dakota Highway Patrol is leading the investigation

North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation said it conducted interviews with Ravnsborg and the South Dakota Highway Patrol, which is leading the investigation, is assisting in conducting other witness interviews

DPS Secretary Craig Price classified the case as a traffic fatality crash investigation. A third-party crash reconstruction team is expected to step in to assist with the investigation as well.

South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem said there has not been a discussion about putting the AG on leave in light of the "tragic situation." The North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation was brought in, along with the third-party crash investigator, to ensure accountability and fairness, Noem said, noting that there was a need for an extra level of accountability because a public official is involved.

PHOTO: In this Feb. 23, 2014, file photo, Jason Ravnsborg speaks in Sioux Falls, S.D.
In this Feb. 23, 2014, file photo, Jason Ravnsborg speaks in Sioux Falls, S.D.
Dirk Lammers/AP

"We give every situation the same standard of investigative procedures that we give any other person," she said Tuesday. "But we are adding an extra level of transparency and accountability that I think is necessary in this case."

"We want to have a completed investigation that has integrity, that has been fair and follow a due process to how we are conducting our every activity as in regards to this accident and this investigation," she added.

She said an investigative report along with 911 calls and other data related to the crash will be released "at the appropriate time," but declined to provide a timetable.

Boever's cousin, Victor Nemec, told the Sioux Falls Argus Leader that Boever's truck hit a pile of hay earlier in the day and he was given a ride back home. He said he was supposed to go back to his cousin's home on Sunday to assist in fixing the truck.

Nemec said he thinks Boever walked along the highway Saturday night to get to the truck.

Nemec told ABC affiliate Dakota News Now he hasn't been contacted by the state and he believes it is being tight-lipped about the investigation.

"It seems like there has been a lot of foot-dragging and lack of investigating going on," Nemec told the station.

Tim Bormann, Ravnsborg's chief of staff, told ABC News that the attorney general was driving home from a dinner party hosted by the county's Republican Party at Rooster's Bar & Grill in Redfield, S.D., roughly 68 miles from the accident site. The "Lincoln Day Dinner," which charged guests $50 in advance and $30 at the door, included a raffle to win a .45 handgun with "Donald Trump 45th," and "Make America Great Again" engraved into the barrel, according to the event's page on the South Dakota Republican Party's website.

Bormann said he doesn't believe that Ravnsborg drank at the event.

"It has been his policy since the time he was a candidate that he does not typically drink at Lincoln Day Dinners or political events of this sort. We have no reason to doubt that he did not continue that trend," he told ABC News.

The attorney general's office said that Ravnsborg stayed on the scene after making the 911 call.

Noem first revealed the news of the accident Sunday evening. In addition to the South Dakota Highway Patrol, the North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation will investigate the fatal accident, since the South Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation is under the attorney general's jurisdiction, according to Bormann.

Ravnsborg, who was elected in 2018, has a string of previous driving violations, according to state records. He pleaded guilty to speeding six times between 2014 and 2018 and paid fines between $19 and $79, according to state records.

He was also cited for a seat belt violation in 2017 and paid a $25 fine, according to state records.

Investigators have not determined if speeding was a factor in Saturday's accident.