By Nick Lowrey and Bart Pfankuch, South Dakota News Watch
Two cousins of the man killed when a car driven by South Dakota Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg struck him say they worry the investigation into the incident is not being handled properly.
Victor and Nick Nemec are both cousins of Joseph Boever, 55, who was killed when Ravnsborg struck him with his car along U.S. Highway 14 west of Highmore, S.D. while driving back from a political event at 10:30 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 12.
Officials say that Ravnsborg, who has a recent history of speeding tickets, reported to the local sheriff that he believed he had struck a deer when in fact he had struck and killed Boever. Boever’s body was found on the morning of Sunday, Sept. 13; an investigation into the accident is ongoing.
The Nemecs, who made the official identification of Boever’s body on Sunday, independently told South Dakota News Watch that they were concerned that investigators might be more concerned with absolving Ravnsborg of any wrongdoing than in finding out what really happened to their cousin.
The brothers said they wonder why it took so long for investigators to contact them about identifying their cousin’s body, even though Victor Nemec had contacted the Hyde County Sheriff’s Office about 10 hours earlier with his concerns that Boever was missing and may have been involved in the Highmore collision. Victor Nemec had also told authorities earlier that Boever’s truck was in the ditch near the accident scene.
“It took them 10 hours from the time my brother essentially solved the unidentified body for them at 10 o’clock in the morning saying, ‘We’re missing our cousin, Joe, and we can’t find him. And that’s his pickup in the ditch,’” said Nick Nemec, a former Democratic state legislator. “It just seems fishy; it just seems like they’re looking for an excuse to make it less than it was.”
Furthermore, Victor Nemec said he was likely the last person to see Boever alive, but as of late morning Sept. 14, no investigator had contacted him to ask questions or give a statement.
“I believe they’re more interested in getting their story straight before they actually ask me questions,” Victor Nemec said. “I told them that I was probably one of the last people to see my cousin alive. I could make any kind of statement that they needed. And they really didn’t acknowledge that.”
Boever was killed when he was struck by a 2011 Ford Taurus driven by Ravnsborg on U.S. Highway 14 about half a mile west of Highmore in central South Dakota. According to a Sept. 14 news release from the South Dakota Department of Public Safety, Ravnsborg called the Hyde County Sheriff’s Office after striking Boever to report that he thought he had hit a deer.
Boever’s body wasn’t found until Sunday morning, the release said, and the investigation into the fatality did not begin until after the body was discovered. The release does not indicate when Ravnsborg called authorities to report the accident. The release said Ravnsborg was not injured.
Victor Nemec said that Boever was likely walking to the white Ford pickup he had left disabled in the westbound ditch of the highway after having struck a hay bale earlier in the day on Sept. 12. After hitting the hay bale, Boever had called and asked Victor Nemec for help and a ride back to his home on Commercial Avenue in Highmore. That call came in at around 7 p.m., Victor Nemec said.
Nemec met Boever at his disabled pickup and after a quick inspection of the damage, the pair decided they would wait until the next day to try to move the truck. Nemec took Boever home and the pair made a plan to meet the next morning. Nemec said he left Boever at his home at about 8:30 p.m.
On his way into Highmore to pick Boever up Sunday morning, Nemec said he saw a highway patrol cruiser sitting on the highway not far from his cousin’s pickup. About a quarter-mile east of the pickup, the westbound lane of Highway 14 was blocked off by emergency vehicles and traffic was being directed over a single lane.
When Boever didn’t answer a knock on his door, Victor Nemec discovered that it was unlocked and decided to search the small, one-bedroom house. The lights were still on but Boever was nowhere to be found. Victor Nemec then decided to call the Hyde County Sheriff and let someone know that he was worried that Boever may have been involved in the collision west of Highmore.
The sheriff asked where Boever was and Nemec said he didn’t know. Then the sheriff told Nemec to wait in Boever’s house and that someone would contact him. No one ever did, Nemec said. Eventually, Nemec called the sheriff again and was told to go home and wait there.
At about 5:30 p.m., while watching the local news on T.V., Victor Nemec saw Gov. Kristi Noem and Department of Public Safety Secretary Craig Price give a news conference about a fatal collision involving Ravnsborg that occurred near Highmore.
Price said the South Dakota Highway Patrol, a division of the Department of Public Safety, was handling the investigation as is standard practice for fatalities on South Dakota highways.
Officials have since said that investigators from the North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation will assist in the inquiry.
Ravnsborg issued a statement Sunday saying he was cooperating with the investigation.
“At this time I offer my deepest sympathy and condolences to the family. I am shocked and filled with sorrow following the events of last night. As Governor Noem stated, I am fully cooperating with the investigation and I fully intend to continue do so moving forward,” Ravnsborg said in the statement.
After watching the Noem news conference Sunday, Victor Nemec called his brother Nick, who also is a local rancher, and explained his fears that their cousin had been involved in the collision. Nick Nemec told his brother to call law enforcement and let someone know that their cousin was missing. Victor Nemec first called 911 and explained the situation to the operator. He then called the highway patrol office and said he was told the office was just receiving his 911 report.
At about 7:30 p.m. Sunday, an investigator called Victor Nemec and asked him if he could go to a funeral home in Highmore to identify Boever’s body. When the Nemecs arrived at the funeral home, no one was there, Victor Nemec said. The brothers waited for about 10 minutes before the funeral director, driving a minivan equipped as a hearse, and a highway patrol vehicle pulled into the parking lot.
The funeral director pulled her vehicle up to an overhead door, opened up the minivan’s back hatch and pulled out a body bag.
Prior to the accident, Ravnsborg attended the Spink County Republican Party Lincoln Day Dinner, which was held at Rooster’s Bar & Grill in Redfield. According to the group’s website, the event was scheduled for 5 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., with a “social hour” at 5 p.m. and dinner at 6:30 p.m.
Redfield is about 69 miles from Highmore and about a 1-hour, 10-minute drive, according to Google Maps.
The site where the accident occurred west of Highmore was close to the spot where the speed limit through town is 45 mph but rises again to 65 mph heading west, Nick Nemec said.
Tim Bormann, a spokesman for the Attorney General’s Office, told the Rapid City Journal on Sunday that Ravnsborg “drinks lightly,” and Bormann later said that Ravnsborg does not typically drink alcohol at Lincoln Day Dinner events.
Records from the South Dakota Unified Judicial System show that Ravnsborg has been cited for speeding on South Dakota highways six times between 2014 and 2018, including for driving 85 mph in a 65 mph zone in Faulk County in May 2015 and for driving 80 mph in a 65 mph zone in Pennington County in April 2018.
The accident on Saturday is not the first time a top South Dakota official has been involved in a traffic fatality. On Aug. 16, 2003, U.S. Rep. Bill Janklow of South Dakota ran a stop sign and killed a motorcyclist near Trent, S.D.
Janklow, a former state attorney general and four-term South Dakota governor, was convicted of second-degree manslaughter and was sentenced to 100 days in jail and probation. Janklow died in 2012.
Reprinted with permission.