(UPDATED: Victim's cousin on Ravnsborg's car: "It was a red Taurus. I saw that hole in the windshield.”)
According to Gov. Kristi Noem the investigation into the Saturday night, Sept. 12, collision at Highmore in which the state’s top law officer was driving a car that hit and killed a man is largely being outsourced.
Noem and her Secretary of Public Safety Craig Price held a short news conference Tuesday in the Capitol to again discuss how they are handling the investigation into Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg. The 44-year-old A.G. was driving a westbound car that hit and killed Joseph Boever, 55, about 10:20 p.m., Sept. 12, on U.S. Highway 14 near Highmore.
They said little or nothing about the car Ravnsborg was driving, although he confirmed Monday it was his own 2011 Ford Taurus he drove from a GOP dinner in Redfield home to Pierre when, passing by the rural west side of Highmore, he hit what he says he thought was a deer.
Highmore is 50 miles east-northeast of Pierre.
Ravnsborg said he right away called 911, at 10:24 p.m., to report that he hit a large animal, probably a deer. Hyde County Sheriff Mike Volek, who lives less than a mile away, soon arrived.
They did not find a deer and the sheriff allowed Ravnsborg to use his own vehicle to drive home to Pierre, the attorney general said.
It wasn’t until Ravnsborg returned the sheriff’s vehicle Sunday morning and stopped to search in the daylight that he found Boever’s body lying in the north ditch near the highway, Ravnsborg said in a written statement released Monday night.
According to Boever’s cousins, Victor Nemec and Nick Nemec, of nearby Holabird, Boever apparently was walking along U.S. Highway 14 out to where he had left his Ford pickup truck in the ditch earlier Saturday evening about a 1.25 mile west of the junction of Highway 14 with state Highway 47 in Highmore.
Boever’s cousins, and several people in Highmore who viewed the scene, said Boever’s body was found about a half-mile west of that junction in Highmore..
Ravnsborg’s car was hauled, apparently, first to Pierre as part of the investigation that began last Sunday.
Nick Nemec told the Capital Journal he saw Ravnsborg’s car being hauled back from Pierre to Highmore on Tuesday. It was on a flatbed trailer, he said.
“It was a red Taurus. I saw that hole in the windshield,” Nemec said. The Black Hills Towing truck hauled the car to the near by state Highway Department yard and shop on the north edge of U.S. Highway 14. That DOT yard is about 300 yards east of where Boever’s body was found, according to Nemec and others.
Photos of the red Taurus with the big hole in the passenger side of the windshield are posted online after KELO-TV posted them, saying a viewer sent the TV station the photos.
Nick Nemec and Victor Nemec said it’s clear from the photos that it shows the red Taurus in the state DOT yard in Highmore. Actually, that DOT yard is north of the Highmore city line at U.S. Highway 14, about 500 yards west of state Highway 47, which is the west city limit of Highmore on the north sided of Highway 14.
The Nemecs have been critical of Ravnsborg, Noem and other state leaders, saying not enough information has been released about the incident that killed their cousin.
Noem and Price first announced it at a news conference late Sunday afternoon, saying Ravnsborg had been involved in a crash in which someone died. But nothing was said Sunday about the victim of the crash, including his gender, age or that he was walking along the highway. All those facts typically are released by the Department of Public Safety the day after a traffic crash death.
On Tuesday, Noem opened the news conference: “I know there are a lot of questions about the investigation involving the attorney general. With that I’m going to turn it over to the Secretary of Public Safety Craig Price to . . . fill you in on some details.” It was an 11-minute briefing that seemed to leave questions unanswered.
Price did have news about the scope of the investigation:
The pathology exam of Boever’s body was conducted Monday by the Ramsey County medical examiner’s office in St. Paul. Price said he could say little yet about the results.
Price also said much of the investigation, including interviews with Ravnsborg and others, is being done by agents of the North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation, an arm of longtime Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem.
First elected in 2000 after two decades in the Legislature, Stenehjem is a Republican, like Ravnsborg, who was elected in 2018.
Price said he and the South Dakota Highway Patrol remain in charge of the investigation, as is normal in traffic crashes but that many of the interviews have and will be done by BCI agents from the other Dakota.
Meanwhile, Ravnsborg and his Division of Criminal Investigation — which normally would be helping in such an investigation — are not involved at all with this one, to avoid any conflict of interest, Price and Noem said.
The BCI deal is part of a reciprocal arrangement that each agency has done before for the other, Price and Noem said.
Price said the crash reconstruction part of the investigation has been farmed out to a Wyoming professional.
John Daily, a retired sheriff’s deputy in Jackson Hole, could be said to have written the book — three of them —- on crash reconstruction.
President of Jackson Hole Scientific Investigations, Daily retired in 2003 from the Teton County Sheriff’s Office in Wyoming after 25 years as a law officer, according to his company’s website. He has degrees in mechanical engineering and has investigated more than 1,000 accidents. His books are used in college classes taught by him: Fundamentals of Traffic Accident Reconstruction; Fundamentals of Applied Physics for Traffic Accident Investigators, with Nathan Shigemura, who is one of his partners in JHSI; and “Fundamentals of Traffic Crash Reconstruction, with Shigemura and Jeremy Daily, his son who also a partner in the business.
These developments announced Tuesday illustrate the two-pronged description Noem and Price are giving to this unusual investigation: it’s going to be handled just like any other traffic crash that results in a death, but they also are bringing in outside, “third-party” help to ensure it’s done right without any conflict of interest.
“We offer every situation the same standard of investigative procedures that we would any other person, but we are adding an extra level of transparency and accountability that I think is necessary in this case,” Noem said Tuesday at the brief — 11 minutes long — news conference that had several reporters on teleconference.
Their questions included whether Ravnsborg should be placed on paid leave during the investigation and how Noem and Price would counteract questions of bias when the state’s top law enforcement official is part of an investigation that could lead to criminal charges.
Noem said Ravnsborg was not involved in the investigation at all and the idea of putting him on leave had not been discussed.
Price said if the investigation’s results end up going to a prosecutor for possible charges, it would be the local one in Highmore, the Hyde County state’s attorney.
After taking several questions for her and Price, Noem stopped it and said she would give the last question to veteran Capitol reporter Bob Mercer, who was in the governor’s conference room in the Capitol.
Mercer: “For each of you, what was your reaction when you got the calls, or however you were notified (of the crash)?”
“I can’t speak to that, Bob,” Noem said. “It was a tragic situation.” And the news conference was done.
But one thing was clear this week: the investigation got going fast from Sunday on.
Victor Nemec said that Thursday night, after dark, state officials including DOT and the Highway Patrol, again blocked off traffic near the crash site along U.S. Highway 14 where Ravnsborg hit Boever.
This time both lanes were blocked off and the traffic to the west of the site was detoured south along a gravel road going south of Highway 14 following Highmore’s western-most border, 336th Avenue, known as Taylor Road, which is about a half-mile west of the collision site; and then around to the south side of the city.
It appeared crash reconstruction may have been going on, using a Ford Taurus to perhaps measure what might be seen in headlights at night, Nemec said.
Several questions remain, having risen partly due to Ravnsborg’s written statement he released late Monday night in what he said was a move to counter untrue rumors circulating about the incident.
One detail he included that is unusual in any fatal traffic crash: that the sheriff lent his own vehicle to Ravnsborg to drive home late that night. Of course, that doesn’t happen in the typical traffic crash.
Ravnsborg said that at the time, neither he nor Volek thought the attorney general had hit anything but a deer.
Vehicle/deer collision are not uncommon, of course, in South Dakota.
Ravnsborg said he did look around at the scene that night but could not see anything other than pieces of his car on the roadway.
It wasn’t until he returned Volek’s vehicle Sunday morning, accompanied by his chief of staff Tim Bormann, that he found Boever’s lifeless body lying near the collision site, Ravnsborg said.
That would have been around 9-9:30 a.m. on Sunday, it appears, since Ravnsborg said he left Pierre at about 8 a.m., Sunday, and refueled Volek’s vehicle in Highmore. That would mean he found Boever’s body about 11 hours after the collision.
Which raises perhaps a key question in the case: Was there a chance Boever was alive for some time after being struck by Ravnsborg’s car?
On Tuesday, Price and Noem said questions about Boever’s cause and time of death could not yet be answered.
Emailed questions sent later Tuesday about Boever’s cause and time of death from the Capital Journal to the offices of Noem, Price and Ravnsborg were answered verbally by Tony Mangan, spokesman for the DPS, who said he had been delegated by all three state officials to answer the questions.
Nothing is available “as of right now from the medical examination,” including time of death, Mangan said. “An autopsy does take time to get results.”
He said he didn’t know if the family had received Boever’s body back from St. Paul.
But time of death, cause of death, which direction Boever was walking “are all part of the investigation and are being looked at,” Mangan said. “It’s one of those things we have looked at in any kind of pedestrian fatal crash.”
Victor Nemec, Boever’s cousin, said his body was not removed from the crash scene until Sunday evening, about 22 hours after the crash. Nemec said Highway Patrol troopers asked him to meet them at the Luze Funeral Home about 8 p.m., Sunday, to identify his cousin’s body, warning him that it was badly damaged.
Nick Nemec was with his brother as they looked briefly at Boever’s body.
It did show traumatic damage to Boever’s head, as if there were serious skull fractures, they told the Capital Journal.
One detail normally released early in traffic death cases, including vehicle/ pedestrian crashes, is the location of the crash.
In this case, that information has been somewhat confusing, partly due to the way the city of Highmore is laid out and partly due to that fact there have been two sites involved: where Boever was hit and where he had earlier left his pickup truck parked in the ditch.
Mangan’s report on Monday said the collision of Ravnsborg’s car with Boever happened about a mile west of Highmore.
At her Sunday afternoon news conference, Noem described the crash scene as “just west” of Highmore.
Actually, where Boever’s body was found was just across the highway from the northwest edge of Highmore and about a half-mile west of the junction of east-west U.S. Highway 14 and north-south state Highway 47 that is sort of the nexus of the city.
Highmore’s city limits extend a mile west of that junction on the south side of Highway 14; but don’t go any further west than Highway 47 on the north side of Highway 14. And most of that area west of Highway 47 is farm fields. So many in Highmore think of that site where Boever’s body was found as west of town, they told the Capital Journal, despite what the technical city limits are.
So Boever’s body was found just across the highway from the north edge of the city. That’s not far west of the Titan machinery dealership on the south side of the highway and the state DOT shop and yard on the north side of the highway, just east of a farm feedlot.
Although a sort of city-limits-looking green highway sign announcing “Highmore, Pop. 795,” greets eastbound drivers just west of the Titan dealership on Highway 14, the actual city limits on the south side of Highway 14 extend another 4,000 feet, or three-quarters of a mile, to the west from that Highmore sign, to 336th Avenue, according to the city auditor and online maps of the city.
The westbound speed limit on Highway 14 goes from 45 mph to 65 mph just at the east side of the Titan dealership property, or about 750 feet west of the junction with state Highway 47.
That would mean the speed limit where Boever was hit apparently is 65 mph.
Nothing has been said about how fast Ravnsborg was driving. That sort of detail typically isn’t released in the initial traffic crash reports that DPS issues, usually within 24 hours.
Boever’s pickup truck was in the ditch about a 1.3 miles west of the junction of highways 14 and 47, according to the Nemecs. That would be about three-quarters of a mile west of where Boever’s body was found.
Most of the day on Sunday, investigators blocked off traffic in the westbound lane of Highway 14 at and near the site where Boever was hit by Ravnsborg’s car.
According to his cousin, Victor Nemec, Boever apparently had walked out late Saturday night along Highway 14 to get back to his Ford pickup truck which he and Nemec had left in the ditch earlier that night.
Although it is most likely Boever was walking west, out to the pickup truck, it’s perhaps possible he was walking east, back from the pickup, if he had gone to retrieve something from the truck.
On Tuesday, through Mangan as spokesman, Noem, Price and Ravnsborg said that more detailed information about the location of the crash, as well as which direction Boever was walking and his time of death, was part of the investigation that could not be released yet.
Boever’s family announced a private service “to celebrate Joe’s life will be held at a later date.”
According to his obituary published on the website of Kahler Funeral Home in Dell Rapids, Boever was 55 when he died Saturday, Aug. 12, in the traffic crash at Highmore.
He was born Oct. 1, 1964, in Brookings to John W. and Dorothy Boever. The fourth of seven children, he grew up on the farm and graduated from Brookings High School in 1982. He graduated from the University of South Dakota with a nursing degree and worked at several nursing homes, according to his family.
“His gentle personality allowed him to make a special connection with the elderly. In addition to nursing, he worked as a handyman. Like his grandfathers, Joe was a talented gardener and could grow just about anything. He propagated many Jade plants for his family and rescued neglected plants wherever he went. Joe always had an insatiable curiosity. He loved learning and was a voracious reader. In fact, Joe taught himself how to read at the age of five; something his family discovered when they found him reading encyclopedias. Joe had a quick wit and dry humor that he would use when least expected.”
He and Jennifer Mohr married in 2017.
His survivors include his wife, his mother and six siblings.
“He loved his wife and family as we loved him and his passing leaves a hole in all our hearts,” his family said in his obituary.