South Dakota Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg reported hitting a deer with his car on Saturday night but actually killed a pedestrian whose body was not found until the next day, state investigators said Monday.
Ravnsborg’s office has said he immediately called 911 after the crash on a rural stretch of U.S. Highway 14 and did not realize he had hit a man until his body was found. The Department of Public Safety issued a statement Monday that said only that Ravnsborg told the Hyde County Sheriff’s Office that he had hit a deer. Tony Mangan, a spokesman for the department, would not confirm whether Ravnsborg called 911, saying it is part of the ongoing investigation.
The pedestrian, who was identified as 55-year-old Joseph Boever, was not found until Sunday morning, according to the department. He had crashed his truck in that area earlier, according to relatives, and was apparently walking near the road toward it.
Republican Gov. Kristi Noem had revealed Sunday that Ravnsborg was involved in a fatal crash and said the Department of Public Safety was investigating, but neither she nor the agency had provided any details. The North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation is also participating in the investigation.
Ravnsborg issued a statement Sunday saying he was “shocked and filled with sorrow” but also had not provided details. His office said Monday that he had not been drinking before the crash.
Ravnsborg was driving from a Republican fundraiser in Redfield to his home some 110 miles (177 kilometers) away in Pierre, spokesman Tim Bormann said. Ravnsborg was uninjured.
It took investigators nearly 22 hours to identify Boever’s body with a family member, leaving relatives frustrated and suspicious, cousin Victor Nemec said.
Boever had crashed his truck into a hay bale near the road earlier Saturday evening, according to Nemec. Boever told his cousin that he had been reaching for some tobacco.
Nemec had given Boever a ride home, which was about 1.5 miles (2.4 kilometers) away, and made plans to make repairs on Sunday. He left Boever after 9 p.m. The crash that killed him happened around 10:30 p.m. Nemec said “there was no indication whatsoever” that his cousin had been drinking.
Boever lived alone and had been separated from his wife, Nick Nemec, another cousin, said.
Victor Nemec, the last known person to see Boever, said that besides answering a few brief questions when he identified the body, investigators have not questioned him about what happened.
“A human doesn’t look like a deer,” he said. “The whole thing stinks to me.”
When Boever’s cousins on Sunday could not find him at his home and saw an accident being investigated near where Boever had left his truck, they grew fearful that he was involved. Victor Nemec said he contacted the sheriff around 10 a.m. and was told to wait. As the hours ticked on, they grew more suspicious and called 911 and the Highway Patrol after 5 p.m. They were allowed to identify his body after 8 p.m. on Sunday.
“I don’t know if cousin Joe was laying on the highway for 22 hours or if they had bagged him up before that,” Nick Nemec said.
Ravnsborg had been at a fundraising dinner hosted by the Spink County Republicans at Rooster’s Bar & Grill. The attorney general is known to be a frequent attendee of the fundraisers known as Lincoln Day Dinners, held by county GOP groups across the state.
Bormann said the attorney general drinks occasionally, but has made it a practice not to drink at the Lincoln Day events.
“I didn’t see him with anything but a Coke,” said state Sen. Brock Greenfield, who also attended the dinner.
Ravnsborg has received six traffic tickets for speeding in South Dakota over the last six years. He also received tickets for a seat belt violation and for driving a vehicle without a proper exhaust and muffler system.
The accident prompted some to recall a 2003 incident in which Bill Janklow, a former four-term governor who was a congressman at the time, ran a stop sign at a rural intersection and killed a motorcyclist. Janklow was convicted of manslaughter, prompting his resignation.
The Department of Public Safety says its investigation into Ravnsborg’s crash is ongoing.