KENNEBEC, S.D. - James Schaefer, who spent the past eight years as a South Dakota state representative, was one of two people killed Tuesday in a crash near Kennebec involving a utility vehicle and a passenger car.
Schaefer, 79, had represented District 26B in the state Legislature since 2011. Authorities say he was in a side-by-side UTV that failed to stop at a stop sign and was struck by a car near the intersection of State Highway 1806 and BIA Route 10. His death was announced Wednesday, May 30, by Gov. Dennis Daugaard’s office.
Schaefer was a Republican who worked as a rancher, representing citizens in Brule, Buffalo, Jones and Lyman counties. He served on the Transportation and Agriculture and Natural Resources committees during the most recent legislative session.
“Jim Schaefer was a quality person and a committed public servant,” Daugaard said in a statement. “Jim never sought the limelight, but he always worked hard on behalf of his district and our state. I will always particularly remember Jim’s advocacy for rebuilding the MRC rail line from Chamberlain to Presho, which was a great step forward for producers in that area. Linda and I offer our sympathies to the Schaefer family and to Jim’s many friends.”
Schaefer, who was set to be term-limited out of the House of Representatives, had filed to run for the Lyman County Commission earlier this year. His name will remain on Tuesday’s ballot. The governor requested that flags fly at half-staff statewide in memory of Schaefer on the day of his funeral.
Rod Bowar, who owns the Kennebec Telephone Company and has served on the Kennebec Town Board, said he was proud to call Schaefer his friend.
“Jim was the gentleman that you wanted living next door to you,” Bowar said. “He was a great legislator and a great community person and a very good businessman.”
Bowar noted that Schaefer was successful in business and politics, because he was good at communicating with others.
“He was down-to-earth and just a very practical person,” he said. “He had that ability to carry on a conversation with anyone.”
State Rep. Tona Rozum, of Mitchell, entered the state House of Representatives in 2011 just like Schaefer. She said he earned the nickname “Railroad Jim” for being an advocate for railroad projects, especially in rural parts of the state.
“He really was a proponent for the railroad and he carried that banner,” Rozum said. “I can’t think of anyone else right now that will do that. He planted that seed.”
As a farmer and rancher, Rozum said, Schaefer represented a much-needed voice in the state Legislature, understanding issues that some legislators from the state’s metro areas don’t grasp as easily.
“We need people in Pierre who are farmers and ranchers, and Jim understood that better than anyone,” she said. “Those people bring a wealth of information and have a history of things in South Dakota, and Jim could tell that story.”
U.S. Rep. Kristi Noem, tweeting from her personal account late Tuesday, was among those to offer condolences.
“May God grant the families of South Dakota Rep. Jim Schaefer and his girlfriend, Lois, comfort tonight after such a terrible and sudden loss,” she said.
The South Dakota Department of Public Safety did not release the names of those involved in the crash Tuesday, but noted two people died and three others were injured. The crash occurred at 7:38 p.m., 12 1/2 miles north of Kennebec.
Authorities said a 2016 Honda UTV was northbound on SD Highway 273. The UTV failed to stop at a stop sign at the intersection of SD Highway 1806 and BIA 10. The UTV was struck in the intersection by a 2017 Hyundai Elantra that was traveling east on SD Highway 1806.
The occupants on the UTV were thrown from the vehicle and later pronounced dead at the scene. Neither was wearing a seat belt or helmet.
The three occupants in the car, an 18-year-old female, an 18-year-old male and a 60-year-old female, received minor injuries.
They were transported to the Chamberlain hospital, where they were treated and released. The driver and backseat passenger were wearing seat belts. The front-seat passenger was not.