‘Classic case of driver distraction’: State troopers, independent experts testify in fatal Ravnsborg crash
Day one of testimony in the impeachment investigation into Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg anchors on the location of his vehicle at the time of the fatal crash
PIERRE — John Daily has been reconstructing vehicle crashes since the 1980s.
Over the past 40 years, he’s operated Jackson Hole Scientific Investigations, where he’s reconstructed over 1,000 vehicle crashes through his business.
On Tuesday, Daily appeared before lawmakers in the South Dakota State Capitol in response to a subpoena to testify before the House Select Committee on Investigation in impeachment proceedings surrounding the conduct of Jason Ravnsborg.
Daily was one of six to speak before the committee on the first of two days of testimony — for which lawmakers slated 7.5 hours — including Department of Public Safety Secretary Craig Price, three South Dakota State Troopers and two special agents with the North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation.
A long-time instructor of crash reconstruction in all 50 states and four countries, Daily testified that following his review of the crash reconstruction reports prepared by the South Dakota Highway Patrol — which the state contracted him for — he almost certainly concurs that Ravnsborg was driving entirely on the shoulder when he struck and killed Joe Boever.
“We need to know where the collision occurred. I agree with the conclusion it was on the shoulder of the road,” Daily told the committee. “I can say with 95% confidence that all the wheels [of Ravnsborg’s car] were on the shoulder of the road.”
Doubling down on his statement, Daily claimed that presenting another crash reconstructionist with the same data would most likely result in the same conclusion.
Despite the evidence presented in October 2020 that first claimed Ravnsborg’s entire vehicle was driving on the shoulder, and the continued support of the narrative by officials, much of Tuesday evening’s five hours of testimony surrounded the precise location of his vehicle.
Lawmakers hinged their probe into Ravnsborg’s path that night around a secondary report troopers had presented to Emily Sovell, the prosecutor in his case in magistrate court, in which blood spatter patterns seemed to vary from their initial report.
“The Hyde County State’s Attorney asked us to report a trend line considering only the … lines of blood on the side of the road. That’s completely disregarding all the other evidence on the side of the road,” said Kevin Kinney, a sergeant with the South Dakota Highway Patrol. “As an investigator, I don't think we can completely disregard all the other evidence that was located out there.”
In an effort to “be as thorough as possible,” legislators on the committee questioned every aspect of the crash, even questioning trooper John Berndt, who handled the crash mapping and reconstruction, as to why he handled the case in the first place.
Berndt told lawmakers his primary duty is handling the reconstruction of crashes, as he deals with almost all fatal crashes in northeastern and central South Dakota. He said he carried out his job as instructed because he was called to Highmore to do so.
Craig Price, secretary of the Department of Public Safety, backed Berndt up, noting he followed procedure.
“Our traffic officers were first responding to the scene, and North Dakota was coming in to assist us with the investigation as a whole,” Price said. “I don't know for certain that the investigators from North Dakota have the expertise that we have in reconstructing traffic crashes.”
One aspect of Berndt’s investigation that was left out of initial reports was the distance it took Ravnsborg to bring his vehicle to a stop after striking Boever.
“It takes Attorney General Ravnsborg 614 feet to stop. That is not normal,” Berndt said. “The normal stopping distance is about 200 feet. Why does it take a person to stop so long?”
The speculative answer to that question from most who testified revolved around one theory: Ravnsborg was using his phone while driving.
But committee chairman Spencer Gosch pointed out that phone data pulled from Ravnsborg’s state-owned and personal cell phones showed that neither was in use for several minutes leading up to the crash.
This leads Boever’s cousin, Nick Nemec, to believe Ravnsborg had fallen asleep at the wheel.
Ravnsborg had been returning to Pierre from a campaign event in Redfield that night. Troopers have ruled out the possibility that the crash had been caused by the influence of drugs or alcohol.
“I think he was asleep. Slow reaction time,” Nemec told reporters following the adjournment of the committee. “Joe Boever hits and Ravnsborg is still sleeping. Body falls off into the ditch and then finally Ravnsborg, shaking his head awake, pulls off.”
Though the committee does not accept questions from the public, Nemec hopes that continued testimony on Wednesday from one more agent with the North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation will yield more answers toward what happened that night.
“I’m curious to see what they have to say,” Nemec said. “Quite honestly, I think they're going to say more of the same of what trooper Berndt said — that he was 100% certain that the car was driving on the side of the road.”
Testimony to support the committee’s investigation is scheduled to resume at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday. Though only one more individual is set to testify, some investigators continue to remain under subpoena, in case the committee calls on them to return.
The testimonies are open to the public, who can listen and watch live on South Dakota Public Broadcasting’s website.