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South Dakota attorney general reported hitting a deer, but man's body discovered the next morning, officials say
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South Dakota attorney general reported hitting a deer, but man's body discovered the next morning, officials say

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Jason Ravnsborg

Jason Ravnsborg

The South Dakota attorney general reported hitting a deer Saturday night but had actually hit and killed a pedestrian whose body wasn’t discovered until the next morning, according to the Department of Public Safety.

“My cousin got run over by the attorney general,” Nick Nemec said Monday about his relative Joe Boever.

“A deer doesn’t look like a human,” Nick’s brother, Victor, added.

The brothers say their cousin was hit and killed by Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg as he was walking to his vehicle on Saturday that he’d crashed earlier in the day.

Gov. Kristi Noem said at a Sunday afternoon news 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 the East River town of Highmore. No other details were released by the governor.

Ravnsborg, the 44-year-old Republican attorney general from Pierre, was driving a 2011 Ford Taurus westbound on the highway, DPS said in its Monday morning news release. He reported around 10:30 p.m. that he hit a deer a mile west of Highmore.

DPS spokesman Tony Mangan said Ravnsborg contacted the Hyde County Sheriff’s Office but how he contacted the office — calling 911, the office, the sheriff, etc. — is under investigation. The Rapid City Journal has requested all 911 calls related to the crash.

Whether Ravnsborg was driving a state vehicle and stopped to look for the deer or check for damage to his car is also part of the investigation, Mangan said.

“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.

Victor said his friend who lives close to the crash said he didn’t hear any sirens on Saturday night. Officials are investigating whether local law enforcement responded to the scene that night, Mangan said.

Boever, a 55-year-old from Highmore, was discovered dead the next morning. Who found Boever — and where and when he was found — is under investigation, Mangan said.

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, he added. Mangan said he couldn’t share if Ravnsborg had been tested yet.

All information is preliminary at this point and Highway Patrol continues to investigate the crash. Mangan said all of the information he can’t yet share is the same kind of information he couldn’t share if asked about other fatal crashes at this stage in the investigation.

The investigation

The attorney general had been driving home to Pierre after attending the Spink County Lincoln Day Dinner in Redfield, said spokesman Tim Bormann. The event was hosted at Rooster’s Bar and Grill from 5 to 8:30 p.m., according to the website of the South Dakota GOP.

Bormann said Sunday evening that Ravnsborg “drinks lightly” and doesn’t think he was drinking at the event.

Ravnsborg has a history of speeding, according to the Argus Leader. He pleaded guilty to six infractions and paid fines between $19 and $79 between 2014 and September 2018, just before he was elected to office. He has been arrested for driving as much as 20 miles over the speed limit at midnight, records show. He was also cited for a seat belt violation and driving without a proper exhaust and muffler system.

Nick, 62, and Victor, 58, said they were called to identified Boever’s body to officials around 7:30 p.m. Sunday.

The brothers, both farmers who live near Holabird, say they’re upset about how long it took for officials to ask them to identify the body, and 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,” Victor 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 and Highway Patrol — which is under DPS — will be leading the investigation and Noem said Price will report information 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.

Mangan said he is looking into whether Highway Patrol or BCI will be interviewing Ravnsborg. The Journal is also waiting to learn whether Highway Patrol will turn its findings over to the Hyde County State’s Attorney Office to determine whether to press charges.

‘That’s the last I saw him’

Boever had no children and lived by himself after separating from his wife, Victor said. He was helping him at the farm since he was between jobs.

Boever “was quiet, quite the intellectual type of personality,” Victor said.

He said Boever was most interested in philosophy and history.

“He was just a very soft spoken individual” and spent most of his time helping at Victor’s farm, said Nick, a former Democratic state lawmaker.

Victor said he received a call from Boever around 7:50 p.m. Saturday asking to be picked up on the highway since he had crashed his pickup into a ditch and hit a hay bale.

Victor said he arrived around 8:30 p.m. to find the damaged pickup and Boever, who said he had been on his way to visit him.

He drove Victor back to his home in Highmore where they hung out for around 30 minutes.

Victor said his cousin has a history of depression, bipolar disorder and alcoholism so he thought maybe Boever crashed if he relapsed with alcohol. But Victor said Boever didn’t smell or act like he’d been drinking, and he found no empty beer or alcohol containers when he snooped around his home.

Victor left after telling Boever he would help him retrieve his pickup the next morning.

“That’s the last I saw him,” Victor said.

‘A suspicious feeling’

Victor said he called his cousin several times Sunday morning, but Boever didn’t pick up so he decided to drive over to his house around 9:30 or 10 a.m.

He saw that Victor’s pickup was still in the ditch on the north side of the road as he was driving along U.S. 14 on the way to Highmore. He also saw something new: state troopers, sheriff deputies, people from the local volunteer fire department and officials from the Department of Transportation. He also saw tarps on the ground.

Victor said his friend from Highmore said he saw a red vehicle bumper under one of the tarps but Victor didn’t see that himself. Whether parts of Ravnsborg’s car fell off is part of the investigation, Mangan said.

Victor let himself into Boever’s house after Boever didn’t answer his knocks.

“He was nowhere to be found,” I even searched the basement, 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 finally told him in the mid-afternoon to return to his own house and wait for someone to meet him there.

Nick said his brother called him around 5 p.m. to say that Boever was missing.

We knew about the crash so “we suspected it’s our cousin,” Nick said

Victor said he was “getting anxious” so he called 911 in the early evening to make an official missing persons report.

Confirmation

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, 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 any 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 it or grab something from inside. But they have no idea why he would have returned at night rather than wait until the morning.

“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 in 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.

Victor said he doesn’t think his cousin was drunk since he had checked for signs he had relapsed. He said his cousin was open about his depression but said he’d never been suicidal.

After identifying 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 arielle.zionts@rapidcityjournal.com.

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