Highway Patrol Under Fire for Investigation Into Fatal Car Crash Involving South Dakota AG

In a January 19, 2022, committee meeting, South Dakota lawmakers considered whether state Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg should face impeachment charges for alleged involvement in a September 2020 car crash that killed a man.

The state House Select Committee on Investigation's hearing also focused on the South Dakota Highway Patrol's investigation into the incident. According to The Associated Press, the lawmakers asked "aggressive" and "rapid-fire" questions to the law enforcement officers who oversaw the investigation.

South Dakota Public Broadcasting reported Ravnsborg was driving at 65 miles per hour that night in late 2020 when he struck 55-year-old Joe Boever. South Dakota Highway Patrol Trooper John Berndt said it took Ravnsborg about 600 feet to stop the car after hitting Boever. He added that it usually takes less than 200 feet.

Berndt also said that Ravnsborg was driving "so far onto the shoulder that he's almost into the ditch when he strikes Mr. Boever," according to SDPB.

The Highway Patrol's conclusion that Ravnsborg had driven onto the shoulder of the highway was one of the topics the committee especially made sure to confirm in its questioning, the AP reported.

Highway Patrol Sergeant Kevin Kinney said that while the investigation was complicated by the fact that it began a day after the crash, he could confirm that all four wheels of Ravnsborg's car were on the highway shoulder at the time of the crash.

The investigation began the day after the crash because Ravnsborg said he initially thought he had hit an animal, not a person. The Daily Beast reported Hyde County Sheriff Mike Volek responded to the 911 call from Ravnsborg that night and went to the scene, but they said they did not see a body.

Volek then lent Ravnsborg his car so the attorney general could drive home. Ravnsborg said he did not see Boever's body until the next morning when he returned to the area to bring back Volek's car.

Volek died in November and never made a public statement about the crash, according to the Daily Beast.

Berndt said if Ravnsborg did not notice he hit Boever, he must have been driving while distracted because the investigation found Boever's face came through the car's windshield and the impact was so strong it severed Boever's right leg, SDPB reported.

"To drive that far onto the shoulder, to take that long to stop, to say that you never saw the person and their face came through your windshield—I'm sorry, but that's a distraction," Berndt said.

Ravnsborg pleaded no contest to two misdemeanor charges in connection to the incident in August.

The AP reported South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem had the North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation conduct parts of the investigation to avoid having the agency Ravnsborg oversees investigating the case. Some lawmakers like House Speaker Spencer Gosch questioned why the North Dakota Highway Patrol had not also been tasked with the investigation instead of the South Dakota one, "given the political nature of the situation."

When asked why the lawmakers were questioning the Highway Patrol's conclusions, Gosch said "we're just trying to be thorough in our investigation."

Pierre, South Dakota, Kevin Kinney
Lawmakers are weighing whether South Dakota Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg should face impeachment charges for a 2020 car crash which killed a man walking near a rural highway. Above, South Dakota Highway Patrol Sergeant Kevin Kinney, left, points to a diagram of the 2020 crash during a House impeachment investigative committee meeting in Pierre, South Dakota, on January 18, 2022. Stephen Groves/AP Photo