SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — South Dakota Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg reported hitting a deer with his car while driving on a highway in central South Dakota the night of Saturday, Sept. 12, but he had actually struck and killed a man whose body wasn't discovered until the next morning, according to the South Dakota Department of Public Safety.
The man, Joseph Boever, 55, of Highmore, S.D., likely was on his way back to his pickup, parked in the ditch alongside the highway, family members say.
Ravnsborg was on his way back to Pierre in a 2011 Ford Taurus, returning from a GOP dinner in Redfield, when he struck Boever about 10:30 p.m., according to his office and authorities. Highmore is about 70 miles from Redfield, and about half way to Pierre.
Ravnsborg told the Hyde County Sheriff's Office he thought he had hit a deer, and he wasn't injured, DPS said in a Monday news release. Ravnsborg called 911 immediately after the collision, the Attorney General's Office told the Associated Press. Boever's body wasn't discovered until Sunday morning, Sept. 13, DPS said.
In a hastily called news conference in Sioux Falls on Sunday at about 5:30 p.m., Gov. Kristi Noem announced Ravnsborg was involved in a fatal crash, but she didn't release any additional information about what happened or who else was involved. Ravnsborg issued a statement shortly after expressing shock and sorrow, but also didn't offer any additional details about what happened.
Ravnsborg, 44, had attended a GOP Lincoln Day dinner at Roosters Bar & Grill in Redfield, S.D., the Rapid City Journal reported. Photos from the event, posted by the Spink County Republicans to its Facebook page, show about 20 people gathered at the event.
The attorney general hadn't been drinking before the collision, Ravnsborg's office told the Associated Press. Ravnsborg does have a history of speeding. He was cited six different times for speeding between 2014 and 2018, including just before being elected in November 2018, according to the Argus Leader newspaper in Sioux Falls.
Boever's cousin, Victor Nemec, gave him a ride home after Boever crashed his white Ford Pickup truck into a hay bale along U.S. Highway 14 earlier on Saturday, according to Nick Nemec, who is Victor's brother and a former Democratic state legislator.
The next day, Victor grew concerned upon seeing an investigation in progress in the vicinity of his cousin's pickup truck, still in the ditch, and when he wasn't able to get in touch with Boever.
He contacted the local sheriff's office, and then at about 5 p.m., called 911 to report Boever missing, and notified the state Highway Patrol. He was asked to identify the body at 8 p.m. Both Nemec brothers did so, nearly 22 hours after the collision.
Nick Nemec said he's not sure why it took authorities so long to get family members in to identify Boever's body.
"We've got questions why it took so long to contact us," Nemec said. "Was our cousin laying dead on the highway for nearly a day while they were investigating? I don't know."
Boever was probably walking back to the pickup from his home in Highmore when he was struck by Ravnsborg on Saturday night, Nemec said.
"All I can think of, was Joe decided to walk back out to his pickup and straighten the bumper himself," he said.
Ravnsborg issued a statement shortly after Noem's announcement, stating he was "shocked and filled with sorrow" following the crash and was fully cooperating with the investigation. He also offered his "deepest sympathy and condolences to the family."
The timing and contents of Ravnsborg's statement "irritated the hell" out of Nemec, he said.
"He offered his condolences to the family of the victim before they even knew who the victim was," he said. "I saw that statement sometime Sunday afternoon, at kind of the same time we were coming to the realization that the victim was our cousin, and he already offered a statement of condolences to the family, and he didn't even know who the family was, because we hadn't identified the body yet."
The Department of Public Safety said it continues to investigate the crash. The North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation is assisting with the investigation, according to the Associated Press.