South Dakota Attorney General Charged With Careless Driving in Man’s Death
South Dakota’s attorney general has been charged with careless driving but avoided more serious felony charges like manslaughter in connection with an accident in which he struck and killed a man with his car last September, prosecutors announced on Thursday.
The attorney general, Jason Ravnsborg, a Republican, was also charged with using a mobile electronic device and failing to stay in his lane on the night of Sept. 12, Emily Sovell, the deputy state’s attorney for Hyde County, said at a news conference.
All three of the charges against Mr. Ravnsborg are misdemeanors, which each carry a penalty of up to 30 days in jail and a $500 fine, Ms. Sovell said.
Mr. Ravnsborg, 44, had been traveling 67 miles per hour when the Ford Taurus he was driving hit Joe Boever on the shoulder of U.S. Highway 14 outside of Highmore, S.D., according to the authorities. Mr. Ravnsborg told the authorities at the accident scene that he believed he had struck a large animal like a deer. It wasn’t until the next day, the authorities said, that Mr. Ravnsborg returned to the accident scene and discovered Mr. Boever’s body.
Prosecutors insisted that their criminal investigation into the actions of Mr. Ravnsborg, who was elected in 2018, was impartial. They noted that South Dakota does not have a negligent-homicide law, which they said makes it more difficult for prosecutors to bring manslaughter charges in traffic accidents.
“Mr. Ravnsborg was treated no different than any other person would have been treated under these circumstances,” Ms. Sovell said.
Although the evidence showed that Mr. Ravnsborg had been using a cellphone more than a minute before the accident, the two phones he had on him were locked at the time of the accident, and he was not talking on them, prosecutors said.
Mr. Ravnsborg’s chief of staff referred requests for comment on Thursday to a personal spokesman for Mr. Ravnsborg, who did not immediately respond to a phone message.
In a statement to The Associated Press on Thursday, Mr. Ravnsborg said, “I appreciate, more than ever, that the presumption of innocence placed within our legal system continues to work.”
He added that he could not imagine the “pain and loss” of Mr. Boever’s family.
The family of Mr. Boever, 55, whose pickup truck had been disabled in a nearby ditch, criticized the outcome of the investigation.
“I think he was given preferential treatment,” Victor Nemec, a first cousin of Mr. Boever, said of Mr. Ravnsborg in an interview on Thursday. “This state has a long tradition of going easy on their elected officials when they commit wrongdoings. There’s a definite good old boy network out here in how the state operates.”
Mr. Nemec said Mr. Boever’s widow was expected to file a lawsuit against Mr. Ravnsborg. Mr. Boever had worked stints as a nurse’s aide and at a grocery store, but he had most recently been employed helping his cousin haul hay on his cattle farm.
Gov. Kristi Noem of South Dakota, a Republican, said on Twitter that she was taking steps to provide greater transparency on the details of the investigation.
“My heart goes out to Joseph Boever’s family,” Ms. Noem said. “I am not going to comment on the specifics of Ms. Sovell’s decision. I am directing the Department of Public Safety to share additional details of the investigation with the public within the next week.”
Prosecutors said on Thursday that Mr. Ravnsborg had cooperated with investigators since the immediate aftermath of the collision, from calling 911 to providing a blood sample the next day for toxicology tests. He also gave investigators access to his cellphones, prosecutors said.
The toxicology results showed no signs that Mr. Ravnsborg was under the influence of alcohol or drugs, according to prosecutors. The victim’s family has questioned why Mr. Ravnsborg was not tested on the night of the collision.
“I know that for every prosecutor there’s likely a very visceral reaction to traffic accidents that result in fatalities,” Ms. Sovell said. “Prosecutors’ jobs, however, are to look at the facts, look at the evidence, apply the laws and the standards that they’re provided, and that’s exactly what’s been done in this case.”
Michael Moore, the state’s attorney for Beadle County, said at the news conference that prosecutors could bring more serious charges only if a person was driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, and operating the vehicle in a reckless manner.
“The investigation was second to none,” said Mr. Moore, who briefed Mr. Boever’s family earlier on Thursday. “They obviously don’t like our decision in this case. As we all know, victims don’t make that decision.”
Marie Fazio contributed reporting.