Authorities in South Dakota are providing few details after the state's attorney general fatally struck a man with his car, allegedly mistaking the victim for a deer.
Jason Ravnsborg, 44, told law enforcement he hit a deer after attending a restaurant party in eastern South Dakota. The crash occurred at approximately 10:30 p.m. on U.S. Highway 14, according to officials.
However, a body of 55-year-old Joe Boever, of Highmore, was found the next morning, authorities said.
It’s unclear when or how the attorney general reported the incident to local law enforcement and whether or not authorities searched for a deer in the crash’s aftermath. It’s also unknown if the Ford Taurus Ravnsborg was driving was state-owned or if it was his personal vehicle.
The Department of Public Safety noted a preliminary autopsy had been conducted on Boever in neighboring Minnesota, as a state pathologist was immediately unavailable in South Dakota. Audio of the 911 call and other evidence, which isn’t yet publicly available, “will be released at the appropriate time,” officials added.
“We’re going to put all hands on deck, which we’ve been so that we can work through this as efficiently and effectively as possible and have the results at the end that we can work through,” Craig Price, the cabinet secretary for the Department of Public Safety, said at the news conference.
Ravnsborg, currently serving his first term in office, allegedly got behind the wheel last weekend after attending a Republican dinner party at a bar in Redfield.
Officials noted it’s customary to test for drugs and alcohol following collisions but didn’t specify if Ravnsborg had undergone such tests.
“Alcohol and drug use is always checked,” Tony Mangan, a spokesperson for the Department of Public Safety told the Rapid City Journal.
Ravnsborg's chief of staff, Tim Bormann, insisted the attorney general “drinks lightly” and likely wasn’t intoxicated at the gathering, the Rapid City Journal reported.
"I didn't see what I hit,” Ravnsborg said in a statement, according to WTVD.
The 44-year-old said he immediately called 911 but didn’t see any signs he had struck a person.
"I looked around the vehicle in the dark and saw nothing to indicate what I had hit,” he added. “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."
He declined to comment further while the investigation is ongoing.
"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," he said.
Boever’s family members said he was struck while walking to his vehicle, which had careened into a ditch earlier that day. The family were contacted on Sunday to identify the body and expressed frustration at the delay in notification.
"We've got questions why it took so long to contact us," cousin Victor Nemec told the Dickinson Press. "Was our cousin laying dead on the highway for nearly a day while they were investigating? I don't know."
Nemec worries the government may go to extreme lengths to protect Ravnsborg.
“I believe the state is going to try to cover this up as much as they can,” Victor told the newspaper. “I don’t trust this state government.”
South Dakota Highway Patrol has since taken the reins of the investigation.
Ravnsborg has a history of speeding, according to the Argus Leader. Between 2014 and 2018, prior to his election, he pleaded guilty to six traffic violations. In one instance, Ravnsborg was busted going 85 mph — 20 mph over the speed limit — in another late-night traffic incident.
It's not clear if speed was a factor in the collision that killed Boever.
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