File release gives details on South Dakota AG’s fatal crash
SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — Details surrounding South Dakota Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg’s fatal crash with a pedestrian in 2020 were revealed publicly Wednesday as the Legislature released unredacted parts of the crash investigation, providing a fresh look at the minutes surrounding the crash but leaving unanswered how Ravnsborg could not have seen the man he struck.
Nearly 200 files in the crash and impeachment investigations were posted online Wednesday, allowing a public examination of the investigation for the first time since the September 2020 fatal crash. Parts of the crash investigation, including messages on Ravnsborg’s phones and photos of the body of the pedestrian, Joseph Boever, were redacted by the House committee.
Lawmakers on Monday concluded a monthslong investigation by voting on party lines t o recommend that Ravnsborg not be impeached. The House will convene on April 12 to consider the committee’s report.
The Republican attorney general last year pleaded no contest to a pair of misdemeanors in the crash and was required to pay fines. He has cast the crash as a tragic accident, insisting he did not realize he killed a man until he returned to the scene the next day and found his body.
The crash investigation files revealed Ravnsborg has been pulled over 25 times for traffic violations, including eight times since he took office in 2019. Ravnsborg told investigators, “I never go more than four over,” even though he had been pulled over for speeding five times since 2019.
The House impeachment committee also found that Ravnsborg in law enforcement interviews “underplayed or omitted, and at worst, misrepresented” how he had been scrolling through his cell phone during his drive from a GOP fundraiser the night of the crash. However, Republican lawmakers argued that did not rise to the level of an impeachable offense because it was not part of his official duties “in office” as attorney general.
Ravnsborg told investigators that the last thing he remembered was looking at his speedometer “and then wham.” He hit Boever.
Boever’s body suffered ”multiple traumatic injuries,” according to an autopsy. A toxicology report also found Boever had taken a high amount of Lorazepam, an anxiety medication, but not enough to be fatal.
Crash investigators found that Ravnborg’s car had crossed fully onto the shoulder of the highway when he struck Boever. It then took 44 seconds for Ravnsborg to halt his car and dial 911, investigators found after examining his cell phone.
Ravnsborg searched the area of the crash, cell phone data showed, and came within feet of Boever’s body. But the attorney general has insisted he did not see his body or a small flashlight he had been carrying.
“Still not sure what fully happened as I was just driving along,” Ravnsborg texted his top aides about 30 minutes after the crash.
Hyde County Sheriff Mike Volek, who responded to the scene, also reported he didn’t see the body. After assuming that Ravnsborg hit a deer, Volek sent the attorney general on his way home, lending him a personal vehicle.
However, as Volek waited for a tow truck to show up, he was bothered that no deer had been found and took another look around the scene. He saw Boever’s flashlight shining in the grass, he told investigators, but did not take a close look because he thought it was a lightbulb from Ravnsborg’s car.
Ravnsborg reported Boever’s death to Volek the next day after returning to the crash scene and finding Boever’s body.
By that evening, Gov. Kristi Noem was preparing to give a news conference on the crash, and her chief of staff at the time was coordinating with the attorney general’s office to release a statement saying he would cooperate with the investigation, text messages show.
But days later Noem, a fellow Republican, would push for Ravnsborg to step down.
Three days after the crash and with the investigation underway, Ravnsborg was at the Division of Criminal Investigation headquarters in Pierre when he approached an agent, Brent Gromer, who had expertise in cell phone forensic examinations and asked him about what investigators could find on his phones. The crash investigation states that a detective was told the interaction had made Gromer “uncomfortable,” but does not detail who told the detective that.
The same day, the governor’s chief of staff, Tony Venhuizen, texted Ravnsborg: “Given what is happening, the Governor is going to ask you to take a leave of absence, at least until the conclusion of the investigation.”
As the investigation concluded last year, Noem publicly called for Ravnsborg to resign, and after he avoided jail time for the crash, she would push harder for his impeachment.
So far, she has been thwarted. Ravnsborg has refused to step down. He also enlisted Ross Garber, a professor at Tulane Law School, to send a letter to the House impeachment committee arguing against impeachment because his actions “were unrelated to his office.”
Republicans on the committee agreed in a majority report that argues anything Ravnsborg did wrong was not part of his work in office.