SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — South Dakota Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg said in a statement late Monday that he realized he had struck and killed a man walking along a rural stretch of highway only after returning to the scene the next day and discovering the body.
The state’s top law enforcement officer said he initially thought he hit a deer while driving home from a Republican fundraiser on Saturday night. He is under investigation by the South Dakota Highway Patrol.
Ravnsborg said he immediately called 911 after the crash on U.S. Highway 14 and that he didn’t realize he had hit a man until he returned to the scene the next morning and found him while looking for the animal he thought he had hit.
Authorities identified the dead man as 55-year-old Joseph Boever, who had crashed his truck in that area earlier, according to relatives, and was apparently walking toward it near the road when he was hit.
Republican Gov. Kristi Noem promised a transparent investigation Tuesday, saying she was bringing in outside investigators. A crash reconstruction expert from Wyoming and the North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation are helping the state Highway Patrol with the investigation. Noem gave no timeline on when details would be released.
For the family of the man killed, 55-year-old Joseph Boever, it has already been too long. Boever’s cousin Nick Nemec said relatives believe Boever was walking on the highway shoulder, toward his truck that had crashed earlier that same night.
“Cousin was just a quiet, meek, mild guy who minded his own business,” Nemec said. “He grew jade plants and would give jade plants for gifts.”
The Department of Public Safety issued a statement Monday saying only that Ravnsborg told the Hyde County Sheriff’s Office he had hit a deer. Department spokesman Tony Mangan would not confirm whether Ravnsborg called 911, saying it is part of the investigation.
Ravnsborg said Sunday he was “shocked and filled with sorrow.” He released a second statement on Monday night detailing his account of the accident, saying it was necessary to dispel rumors.
Ravnsborg said he was driving from a Republican fundraiser in Redfield to his home some 110 miles away when his vehicle hit something he believed was a large animal. Ravnsborg said he called 911 and looked around his vehicle in the dark using a cellphone flashlight. He said all he could see were pieces of his vehicle.
After Hyde County Sheriff Mike Volek arrived, the two men surveyed the damage and filled out paperwork for his car to be repaired, the attorney general said.
“At no time did either of us suspect that I had been in an accident with a person,” Ravnsborg said.
With his car wrecked, Ravnsborg said he borrowed the sheriff’s personal car to return to his home in Pierre. The next morning, he and chief of staff Tim Bormann drove back to return the sheriff’s car.
They stopped at the spot of the accident, where Ravnsborg said he discovered Boever’s body in the grass just off the shoulder of the road. He said it was apparent Boever was dead.
Ravnsborg said he was cooperating with the investigation, including providing a blood sample, agreeing to have both of his cellphones searched, and being interviewed by law enforcement agents.
Boever had crashed his truck into a hay bale near the road on Saturday evening, according to his cousin Victor Nemec. Boever told his cousin that he had been reaching for some tobacco.
Nemec had given Boever a ride home, which was about 1.5 miles away, and made plans to make repairs on Sunday. He left Boever after 9 p.m. The crash that killed him happened around 10:30 p.m. Nemec said “there was no indication whatsoever” that his cousin had been drinking.
Ravnsborg had been at a fundraising dinner hosted by the Spink County Republicans at Rooster’s Bar & Grill. The attorney general is known to be a frequent attendee of the fundraisers known as Lincoln Day Dinners, held by county GOP groups across the state.
Bormann said the attorney general drinks occasionally, but has made it a practice not to drink at the Lincoln Day events.
“I didn’t see him with anything but a Coke,” said state Sen. Brock Greenfield, who also attended the dinner.
Ravnsborg has received six traffic tickets for speeding in South Dakota over the last six years. He also received tickets for a seat belt violation and for driving a vehicle without a proper exhaust and muffler system.
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