South Dakota’s top prosecutor will face misdemeanor charges — but avoided felony counts — for fatally striking a pedestrian in September, officials said Thursday.
Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg was hit with three misdemeanors for operating a motor vehicle while using a mobile device, driving outside a lane and careless driving, Emily Sovell, deputy Hyde County state’s attorney, told reporters.
Sovell said there was no proof Ravnsborg was impaired and there was not enough evidence to charge Ravnsborg with a more serious offense, such as vehicular homicide or manslaughter, for the death of Joseph Boever, 55.
“It doesn’t surprise me one bit, but it does disappoint me,” Boever’s cousin Victor Nemec told NBC News. “This state is well known nationwide for being lenient when it comes to elected officials getting in trouble.”
Sovell claimed she shielded her office and investigators from political influence and explained that under South Dakota’s narrowly defined vehicular homicide statute, an offender would have to be under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
While it took hours for a blood draw to be taken from Ravnsborg, the prosecutor said she’s confident Ravnsborg wasn’t impaired.
“There was a very, very thorough investigation conducted for every step that was taken by him in the hours preceding and nothing was indicative of him being under the influence of any alcohol or drugs,” she said.
Sovell said manslaughter wouldn’t have applied either, because it would call for reckless behavior that’s “more than just a mere ordinary negligent standard” and “operation of a motor vehicle in violation of a law is not in of itself sufficient to constitute the recklessness required.”
Boever, who lived in Highmore, was carrying a light while walking on the side of U.S. Highway 14 when Ravnsborg fatally struck him with his Ford 2011 Taurus on Sep. 12, according to the crash report released in early November.
The crash report said Ravnsborg was “distracted” when he drove onto a highway shoulder and Boever was not responsible for any “contributing circumstances” in the fatal crash.
Earlier in the night, Boever’s truck crashed into a ditch off Highway 14, and Nemec drove his cousin home. Boever apparently returned to that truck later to retrieve something and Nemec said he’s not sure why his cousin didn’t wait until the next morning.
Ravnsborg reported to the Hyde County Sheriff’s Office that he had hit a deer and Boever’s body was found the next day.
“It was a very dark night, this was in rural area,” Sovell said. “It’s not well lit by any artificial means.”
The misdemeanors carry maximum penalties of 30 days in jail and a $500 fine.
While Ravnsborg is charged with being on the phone while driving, prosecutors clarified that his phone usage came well before the fatal crash — and that his two devices were shown to be locked for at least a minute before the 67 mph impact.
Despite avoiding the more serious felony charges, Ravnsborg could still be targeted by Boever’s family in a lawsuit.
“This is a tragic accident which took the life of Mr. Boever way too soon,” Beadle County State’s Attorney Michael Moore. “The victim’s remedy is in civil court, not criminal court.”
Ravnsborg’s chief of staff declined to make the prosecutor available for comment on Thursday.
“My heart goes out to Joseph Boever’s family,” Gov. Kristi Noem said in a statement. “I am not going to comment on the specifics of Ms. Sovell’s decision. I am directing the Department of Public Safety to share additional details of the investigation with the public within the next week.”