(CN) — Members of a South Dakota State House select committee on Tuesday interrogated the officials who investigated a 2020 collision in which the state's attorney general killed a pedestrian.
In the face of polite but forceful questioning from the legislators, the investigators were adamant: Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg was distracted and driving on the shoulder of U.S. Highway 14 when he struck pedestrian Joseph Boever.
"He's driving so far on the shoulder he's almost going to the ditch, when he strikes Mr. Boever," said Trooper John Berndt of the South Dakota Highway Patrol. "To say you never saw the person and the face came through your windshield? I'm sorry, that's a distraction."
The members of the South Dakota State House Select Committee on Investigation heard testimony Tuesday from Public Safety Secretary Craig Price, Colonel Rick Miller, and Sergeant Kevin Kinney of the South Dakota Department of Public Safety, John Daily of Jackson Hole Scientific Investigations and Brandt. More testimony is scheduled for Wednesday.
Boever's head went through the AG's windshield, glasses flying off his face and into the passenger compartment, investigators told the committee. His body rode with the car a short distance before falling off.
Under extensive questioning on the scientific details of the investigation from the nine-member committee, investigators maintained Ravnsborg was traveling on the shoulder at the time of the crash but weren't certain what distracted him. However, the AG did plead no contest last year to driving while using a cell phone in connection with the incident.
"For some reason the driver was districted and was driving on the shoulder," said Daily, who was not at the scene of the investigation but assisted by reviewing the evidence. "If he were driving in his lane, the crash never would have happened."
More evidence he was distracted, Berndt said, was that he traveled more than 600 feet after the collision before stopping. Normal stopping distance would be more like 200 feet.
Committee members also questioned the public release of the crash report on the incident. Officials said making that document public is standard procedure.
The committee voted in late December to subpoena the investigators as part of an ongoing impeachment probe.
Because of conflict-of-interest concerns, Ravnsborg's investigation was carried out by the South Dakota Department of Public Safety and the North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation.
This is the second week of the South Dakota Legislature’s 2022 session at the state Capitol in Pierre.
Ravnsborg was driving home late in the evening of Sept. 12, 2020, after a fundraiser when he struck and killed Boever, 55.
The attorney general has said he was not aware he had hit a person the night of the crash. In his initial statement to authorities, Ravnsborg reportedly said he thought he had stuck a deer or large animal but was reportedly unclear why he swerved onto the highway shoulder.
Ravnsborg claimed that he stepped out of his car after the collision to search the area with a cellphone flashlight. He said it wasn’t until he returned to the scene the next day that he became aware he had struck a person.
Investigators questioned Ravnsborg shortly after the accident about Boever's glasses being in his vehicle. "His face was in your windshield, Jason. Think about that," a detective with the North Dakota Bureau of Investigation said during an interrogation on Sept. 30, 2020, according to the Argus Leader newspaper of Sioux Falls. Video footage of those interviews is no longer public due to a judge's order.
On Wednesday, the committee interviewed the two North Dakota investigators from that interview, Joe Arenz and Arnie Rumel.
They told the committee that while many aspects of Ravnsborg’s story of the day of the crash were accurate, his initial story to law enforcement about not being on his phone during the trip back to Pierre were untrue. He changed his story after they confronted him during the interview, with Ravnsborg admitting that he had checked email. He was not actually on his phone when the crash occurred.
And during the interview, the attorney general seemingly admitted that he had seen Boever's body after getting out of his car the night of the collision, but then immediately backtracked, Arenz said.
According to Arenz, Ravnsborg said: “'I got there. I turned around. And that’s when I saw him.’ And then he said, 'No. I didn’t see him.’”
There was no other person he could have been talking about, Arenz said.
“The only other person out there was Joe Boever.”
No alcohol was found in Ravnsborg's system when his blood alcohol level was tested 15 hours after the collision.
The attorney general was charged with careless driving, using a mobile electronic device while driving, and failing to stay in his lane. The careless driving charge was dropped as Ravnsborg pleaded no contest in August to the other counts. He faced no felony counts.
Ravnsborg is up for reelection in 2022, and he will face some competition. Fellow Republican Marty Jackley, who served as attorney general from 2009–2019, has said he plans to run for his the position again this year.
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