SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — In an extraordinary two-page statement released late Monday, Sept. 14, South Dakota Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg said he tried and failed to find a body after he thought he hit a deer with his car late Saturday night, but then returned the following morning and discovered the body of the man he had struck and killed.
Ravnsborg struck and killed Joseph Boever, 55, of Highmore, S.D., while driving a 2011 Ford Taurus along U.S. Highway 14 just west of Highmore about 10:30 p.m. Saturday.
Ravnsborg's lengthy recounting of the night of the crash and the following morning stand in stark contrast to the limited information otherwise released so far by state officials.
On Tuesday, Gov. Kristi Noem and Craig Price, the secretary of the state Department of Public Safety, provided a few additional details about the investigation, but didn't provide much new information other than promising to release the investigation's findings when it is complete.
Ravnsborg said he was issuing the statement because "there are many rumors and stories being told and reported which do not represent a full and factual account of what happened."
Ravnsborg's statement was issued under the South Dakota Attorney General letterhead, but sent to media via his campaign email address just after 10 p.m. Monday, not through the normal email distribution to media from his office. The statement provides many unconfirmed details about the incident that haven't been released by authorities.
In an 11-minute news conference late Tuesday morning, Sept. 15, state officials provided a few more details about the investigation but didn't answer questions about Ravnsborg's statement.
The medical examiner in Ramsey County, Minn., conducted the medical exam of Boever’s body because South Dakota’s pathologist is out of state and unavailable, said Price, who is leading the investigation.
The state has also contracted with a Wyoming crash reconstruction expert to reconstruct the scene of the accident. Price didn’t have the name of that firm on-hand Tuesday.
“The governor has instructed the Department of Public Safety and me to release the report as soon as it is complete,” Price said, including the 911 call Ravnsborg made, but he refused to say when that would be.
Ravnsborg recounts crash, morning after
According to Ravnsborg's statement, he left a GOP dinner in Redfield at about 9:15 p.m., and hadn't had an alcoholic beverage at any point that evening. While driving, he hit something he thought was a large animal, probably a deer. He stopped to investigate, and called Hyde County 911 to report the collision. Ravnsborg wasn't injured in the crash.
Ravnsborg searched the ditch using light from his cellphone camera, but didn't find anything, he said. Soon Hyde County Sheriff Mike Volek met him at the scene, joining the search for what Ravnsborg had struck, without finding anything.
"At no time did either of us suspect that I had been involved in an accident with a person," Ravnsborg wrote.
Ravnsborg said his car was so damaged in the collision it wasn't safe to drive. Volek let him borrow his own vehicle to return to Pierre that evening, Ravnsborg said in the statement.
Ravnsborg and his chief of staff, Tim Bormann, returned from Pierre the following morning to return the sheriff's vehicle, Ravnsborg said, and stopped on the way to search once more at the crash scene.
"As I walked along the shoulder of the road I discovered the body of Mr. Boever in the grass just off the roadway," Ravnsborg wrote. "My chief of staff and I checked and it was apparent that Mr. Boever was deceased."
Ravnsborg said he drove directly to Volek's house to report that he had found Boever's body, and the sheriff accompanied him back to the scene of the crash, said he would handle the investigation and the attorney general should return to Pierre.
In his statement, Ravnsborg said he has cooperated fully with the investigation into the incident, including a search of both of his cellphones, providing a blood draw, giving the names of people at the GOP dinner who can confirm he wasn't drinking and sitting down for an interview with investigators.
"I'm deeply saddened by the tragic nature of these events, and my heartfelt condolences go out to the Boever family," Ravnsborg wrote, adding he would answer no questions on the matter pending the completion of the investigation by the South Dakota Highway Patrol and the North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation.
Asked to address Ravnsborg's statement, a spokesman for the Department of Public Safety said he could only say the investigation into the incident was ongoing. Boorman referred questions about the statement to Ravnsborg's personal spokesman, Mike Deaver. Deaver didn't reply to an email request for comment. Neither did Volek, the Hyde County sheriff.
At Tuesday's news conference, Noem refused to comment on whether Ravnsborg should be working or be on administrative leave: “That’s not an issue that’s been addressed yet.”
Instead, both Noem and Price pointed to their decision to bring in the North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation as evidence of their desire to keep the investigation free of any ethical concerns.
Ravnsborg is a state constitutional officer and is elected to his position, not appointed by Noem. He is the state’s top law enforcement officer.
Read Ravnsborg's full statement below:
As reported by many news outlets, I was involved in an accident on Saturday, September 12, 2020, that tragically involved a pedestrian who was walking on Highway 14 near Highmore, South Dakota. I have not made a statement before now because the matter is being investigated by the South Dakota Highway Patrol and the North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation and I want to respect that process and let it happen without any interference or appearance of impropriety on my part. 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. For this reason, I’m issuing this statement but will not answer questions about this matter until the official investigation is complete.
On September 12, 2020, I attended the Spink County Lincoln Day Dinner in Redfield, South Dakota. I arrived in Redfield at about 4:45 pm. and left the dinner at approximately 9:15. I consumed no alcoholic beverages before, during or after the event. While on my way back to Pierre and shortly after leaving the town of Highmore, my vehicle struck something that I believed to be a large animal (likely a deer). I didn’t see what I hit and stopped my vehicle immediately to investigate. I immediately called 911 to report the accident and the Hyde County Sheriff came to the scene.
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. When Sheriff Volek arrived at the scene he asked me if I was o.k. and surveyed the damage at the scene and to my vehicle. Sheriff Volek filled out the necessary paperwork to properly report the accident and gave me the tag that is required to get my vehicle repaired. At no time did either of us suspect that I had been involved in an accident with a person. Because my car was damaged too severely to safely drive, a wrecker was called. The nearest tow service that services the Highmore area is out of Pierre and Sheriff Volek advised me that it could take well over an hour before the tow truck would arrive. As a result, he graciously offered to loan me his personal vehicle so I could drive back to Pierre. We drove a short distance from the scene to his home, I borrowed his vehicle and arrived back in Pierre just before midnight. During the drive back to Pierre, I called my chief of staff and told him about the accident and the fact that I had borrowed Sheriff Volek’s vehicle to drive home. He and I made arrangements to return the sheriff’s vehicle the next morning.
On Sunday morning, my chief of staff and I left Pierre at about 8:00 a.m., I drove Sheriff Volek’s vehicle to Highmore and filled the tank with gas. As we were driving to return the vehicle to Sheriff Volek’s home, the debris field from my accident was still on the road so my chief of staff and I stopped to see if the animal that I thought I hit was in the ditch. As I walked along the shoulder of the road I discovered the body of Mr. Boever in the grass just off the roadway. My chief of staff and I checked and it was apparent that Mr. Boever was deceased. 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.
I’ve been cooperating fully with the investigation and have agreed to a search of both of my cell phones, provided a blood draw, and have given the investigators the names of anyone at the dinner who can confirm that I was not drinking alcohol at any time during the event. I also sat down with the agents investigating this matter and have provided them with a full face to face interview answering any and all questions they have of me.
I’m deeply saddened by the tragic nature of these events and my heartfelt condolences go out to the Boever family. As stated previously, I am providing this information to try and dispel some of the rumor and innuendo that are being spread in the wake of this tragedy. That being said, I will not be answering questions at this time and will give this investigation the respect that it deserves. Once the investigation is complete I will make myself available to answer questions that may exist; however, I have full confidence in the thoroughness of the job being done by the South Dakota Highway Patrol and the North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation which I believe will answer most if not all questions that the people of South Dakota may have.
Jason R. Ravnsborg