South Dakota AG Faces 3 Misdemeanors in Fatal Car Crash

South Dakota prosecutors charged state Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg with three misdemeanors after hitting and killing a pedestrian with his car last September.  

Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg addresses supporters Nov. 6, 2018, at the Hilton Garden Inn in Sioux Falls, S.D. (Briana Sanchez/The Argus Leader via AP)

(CN) — Jason Ravnsborg, South Dakota’s Republican Attorney General, was charged with three misdemeanors on Thursday for hitting and killing a man with his car last September.

Ravnsborg said he thought he hit a deer when he was driving home during the evening and his car veered off the road. He told authorities he searched the area using the light from his cellphone, but didn’t find anything. But when he went back to the site of the crash the next morning, he found the body of 55-year-old Joseph Boever.

Authorities say that Ravnsborg was not intoxicated when he hit Boever and was not on his phone.

On Thursday, Ravnsborg was charged with three misdemeanors in the fatal crash, including careless driving, improper lane change and driving while using a mobile electronic device. Each charge carries up to 30 days in jail and a $500 fine.

During a press conference on Thursday, Hyde County State’s Attorney Emily Sovell said there was not enough evidence to prove a more serious crime.

“Our high courts have explained that for someone’s conduct to be deemed reckless, it’s more than just a mere negligence standard,” she said. “I know that for every prosecutor there’s likely a very visceral reaction to traffic accidents that result in fatalities. Prosecutors’ jobs however are to look at the facts, look at the evidence, apply the laws and standards that are provided and that’s exactly what’s been done in this case.”

The charges filed against Ravnsborg were explained to Boever’s family before the press conference, according to Beadle County State’s Attorney Michael Moore. He said the family was not happy with the outcome.

“But as we all know, victims don’t make this decision,” Moore said. When asked by reporters why Ravnsborg was not charged with a more serious crime or if the case could be brought before a grand jury Moore said, “The facts fell well short of what we needed to reach recklessness. So, there would be no use to present this case to the grand jury.”

Moore said South Dakota does not have a negligent homicide law on the books and that leaves prosecutors with recklessness. It took prosecutors months to make their decision that reviewed GPS data, DNA evidence, video footage from the route and interviews. Ravnsborg explained he was distracted when his Ford Taurus veered off the road and killed Boever.

Ravnsborg was driving home from a political fundraiser on the night he killed Boever, who was walking along the shoulder of the road. The South Dakota attorney general called 911 and reported he hit something, but wasn’t sure what it was, according to transcript records from the call released by the South Dakota Department of Public Safety.

An emergency dispatcher asked, “Are you injured at all, Jason?”

“I am not, but my car sure as hell is,” Ravnsborg said. Later he added, “It sure hit me…smashed my windshield…”

The dispatcher explained that a sheriff’s deputy was on their way to site. Ravnsborg and the deputy both searched the area with a cellphone flashlight for an animal body, but didn’t find anything. Ravnsborg drove back to the site the next morning with a staffer from his office and that’s when they found Boever’s body.

Ravnsborg released a statement Thursday thanking people who reached out to him.

“I appreciate, more than ever, that the presumption of innocence placed within our legal system continues to work. I have always practiced this in my professional life and I understand it even better now as I see that we live in a society where every person enjoys the protection of the law. I have and will continue to pray for Joe Boever and his family.  I cannot imagine their pain and loss and I do send my deepest condolences to them,” he said.

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