Tuesday, June 6, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

South Dakota AG to plead guilty to misdemeanors in roadway death of pedestrian

Jason Ravnsborg told a 911 dispatcher he thought he hit a deer.

(CN) — South Dakota Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg will likely plead guilty to misdemeanor traffic charges in a hit-and-run case resulting in the death of a man who was walking alone along a rural road at night. 

Beale County State Attorney Michael Moore told The Associated Press that Ravnsborg, 45, will likely enter a plea instead face trial.

“There won’t be a trial and there will be a plea entered,” Moore told the AP. He did not disclose the details of the plea agreement, pointing to a court order that prevented him from discussing the case at length. 

Ravnsborg faces three misdemeanors in connection to the case that began last year, including careless driving and driving while operating a mobile electronic device. 

He told police he thought he hit a deer when he was driving home during the evening and his car veered off the road. He claimed 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 Ravnsborg was not intoxicated when he hit Boever and was not on his phone.

The charges carry a possible sentence of 30 days in jail and a $500 fine. They are not sufficient to disqualify Ravsnbord from serving as attorney general, but calls for his resignation by legislators and other members of his own party have intensified, with Republicans in the Legislature discussing impeachment.

Boever’s widow has indicated she will file a wrongful death suit. 

State attorneys have said they lack the necessary evidence to pursue more serious charges, including vehicle manslaughter. 

“Our high courts have explained that for someone’s conduct to be deemed reckless, it’s more than just a mere negligence standard,” said Hyde County State’s Attorney Emily Sovell in February. “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.”

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 struck Boever, who was walking along the shoulder of the road. 

Investigators subjected the attorney general to a toxicology report 15 hours after the incident and he was not found to have alcohol in his system. Those attending the fundraiser said they did not see him drinking at the event. 

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 the site. Ravnsborg and the deputy both searched the area with a cellphone flashlight for an animal body, but didn’t find anything. Ravnsborg and a staffer from his office found Boever’s body the following morning.

Categories: Criminal Politics

Read the Top 8

Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.