PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — Back in July, the South Dakota Transportation Commission agreed for safety reasons to expand the 45-mph speed limit on US 14 through Highmore, so that the zone extended farther east and west. Seven weeks later, at the west edge of that stretch, about where the speed limit goes back to 65, a car driven by state Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg struck and killed pedestrian Joe Boever of Highmore.
Hyde County Sheriff Mike Volek had requested the speed-zone change, according to a state Department of Transportation memo. The sheriff has since become part of the focus of the ongoing investigation into the crash because of his involvement in what happened the night of September 12.
Ravnsborg thought he had hit a deer as he drove out of Highmore at about 10:30 p.m., according to his account of the matter issued two nights later. Ravnsborg said he phoned for help, the sheriff came, and together they looked for the deer but couldn’t find it. Because of damage to Ravnsborg’s personal car, a red Taurus, the sheriff loaned his personal vehicle to Ravnsborg to return to Pierre.
The next morning, a Sunday, the attorney general and his chief of staff, Tim Bormann, drove in separate vehicles back to the Highmore area so Ravnsborg could return the sheriff’s vehicle, according to Ravnsborg, and the attorney general discovered the body of Boever at the crash site.
Ravnsborg isn’t answering questions from the public while the official investigation proceeds. Sheriff Volek declined a KELOLAND interview request on the morning of September 14, telling the reporter to instead go through “proper channels.” Ravnsborg issued his written statement that night.
Back on July 23, during the South Dakota Transportation Commission’s public hearing, state Department of Transportation legal counsel Karla Engle said the proposal for US 14 at Highmore would extend the 45-mile zone by an additional 0.14 miles west, to include the intersection at Titan Machinery, where there is heavy truck traffic.
“The purpose of this rule change is to enhance safety,” Engle said. She presented crash data to support the proposed change and said the intersection of SD 47 and US 14 on Highmore’s north edge is one of 10 intersections of highways within a municipality in South Dakota.
“The crash rate of that intersection in Highmore is actually the highest in the state,” Engle said.
Part of the department’s plan for later this year was to install radar speed-feedback signs, so motorists had additional time to mentally register their speeds and slow down before reaching what Engle described as that “troubling intersection” of US 14 and SD 47, where a fatality sign already stands from a prior crash. She noted there were no turning lanes on US 14 for traffic entering or leaving Titan Machinery.
The commission, having received no public testimony and no written comments, approved the change.
The department memo accompanying the proposal showed two aerial views of the Titan Machinery stretch and the current and proposed 45 zones. The old zone ended 0.16 of a mile west of the 14/47 intersection. The new 45 zone ends 0.30 of a mile west, beyond the Titan complex on the south side of US 14 and west of the entrance to the state Department of Transportation Highmore shop that sits on the north side.
Based on green paint that South Dakota and North Dakota accident investigators placed on US 14, the DOT shop is approximately where Ravnsborg’s vehicle, traveling west toward Pierre, struck and killed Boever, who was walking along the north shoulder to return to his Ford F-150 pickup that he had crashed earlier that evening into a haybale in the ditch farther west along the north side of the highway.
The July 23 SDDOT memo noted, “The speed limit administrative rule change was requested by the Hyde County Sheriff’s Department for concerns about close calls with vehicles traveling 65 mph and the turning trucks and equipment moving slowly when entering or exiting Titian Machinery.”
The memo further said, “Lieutenant Caleb Walters of the South Dakota Highway Patrol and Sheriff Mike Volek have been contacted and both concur with the recommended speed reduction.”
Ravnsborg was returning to Pierre from a Republican Party event in Redfield. Because Ravnsborg isn’t answering questions from reporters while the investigation continues, it’s still publicly unknown whether he traveled down SD 47 from Redfield, perhaps on the Polo cut-across on SD 26. If he did, he would have been required to stop at the 47/14 intersection before turning west onto US 14.
He also might have traveled south from Redfield on SD 45 to Miller and then turned west onto US 14; from there, he would have traveled the east-west length of US 14 through Highmore.
It’s also unknown whether he might have stopped at the Outpost convenience store, bar and steakhouse in Highmore, on the northwest corner of the 14/47 intersection, or at the Shell convenience store on the southwest corner of the intersection.