PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — The South Dakota Highway Patrol and state Public Safety Secretary Craig Price at times Tuesday seemed under greater fire from some members of the House Select Committee on Investigation than the driver, state Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg, who was responsible for the deadly crash that killed pedestrian Joe Boever two years ago.
The committee’s official responsibility is to determine whether to recommend that the House of Representatives impeach Ravnsborg for what happened the night of September 12, 2020, along US 14 at the west edge of Highmore in Hyde County. It is believed to be the first time that the Legislature has looked at impeachment of an official in South Dakota.
Here are some highlights of what the public learned during five hours of testimony that began shortly after 3:30 p.m. by six men from South Dakota, North Dakota and Wyoming, whose jobs involved piecing together reports from the crash.
Boever, a Highmore resident, was walking in the dark, heading east back into Highmore, on the north shoulder of US 14, with a small, lit flashlight in hand, when Ravnsborg’s car, heading west after traveling through Highmore, struck Boever. Boever’s lower right leg was severed by the impact; there was a mark on the pavement from the bone. Boever’s face smashed through the passenger side of the windshield, and his glasses flew into the Ford Taurus, one lens landing in the front passenger-seat area and the frames traveling to the back seat.
Ravnsborg stopped the car 614 feet from the point of impact. SDHP Trooper John Berndt, who reconstructed the scene, told the legislators it should have taken 200 feet, or less, to stop. Berndt said Ravnsborg was obviously distracted. But neither Berndt nor any of the others who testified was able to say what distracted Ravnsborg. Berndt said Ravnsborg’s car was fully on the shoulder at the moment of impact.
Investigators found evidence of human blood in the crash area, including some that was later determined came from Boever. There also was human blood on a fork that crash investigators found that couldn’t be definitely tied to Boever, as well as blood that was later determined came from an unknown animal.
John Daily of Jackson Hole Scientific Investigations didn’t go to the crash scene. He was hired by the South Dakota Department of Public Safety to review the South Dakota Highway Patrol reconstruction of the crash. He had trained Sergeant Kevin Kinney and Trooper Berndt, who did the crash reconstruction. “I know what they’re capable of, so I trusted them,” Dailey told the legislators.
Videos of Ravnsborg being interviewed by North Dakota investigators and reports from the reconstruction were posted, at Secretary Price’s direction, on the DPS website. Retired Circuit Judge John Brown ordered that they be taken down. Price followed the order but told legislators he didn’t agree with it. Price said the posting was done because of a promise to the public of transparency and because he legally could. Price acknowledged that posting hadn’t been done with any previous crash, beyond basic crash reports that are routinely available to the public.
The DPS website posting of the videos and reports came before any criminal charges were filed against Ravnsborg. The posting came after Governor Kristi Noem, a Republican, had called again for Ravnsborg, a Republican, to resign. Noem had appointed Price, the former head of the Highway Patrol, to his position as cabinet secretary after she won election in 2018. Price declined to discuss for the legislators his conversations and emails with Noem about the Ravnsborg matter. Price’s refusal drew criticism from Representative Steven Haugaard, R-Sioux Falls, who is challenging Noem for the Republican nomination as governor.
At least 18 other House members were in the committee room when the testimony began. Also in the room, in full view of the committee, were widow Jenny Boever, her mother, and Boever’s cousin, Nick Nemec of Holabird, a former legislator who has been at every legislative meeting and court proceeding in the matter. Nemec told news reporters after the committee concluded work Tuesday night that he believes Ravnsborg fell asleep.
Neither Ravnsborg nor his defense attorney attended Tuesday and they haven’t been at any of the committee’s meetings. Ravnsborg never appeared in court and settled with Boever’s widow out of court. Ravnsborg had his defense attorney, Timothy Rensch of Rapid City, plead no-contest to two second-class misdemeanors for driving outside the lane of traffic and operating an electronic device while driving, which occurred minutes prior to the crash.