The South Dakota Attorney General has been charged with reckless driving but has avoided more serious felony charges like manslaughter in connection with an accident in which he hit and killed a man with his car last September, prosecutors announced Thursday.
Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg, a Republican, was also charged with using a mobile electronic device and not staying in his lane on the night of September 12, said Emily Sovell, deputy county attorney for Hyde, at a press conference. .
The three charges against Mr Ravnsborg are misdemeanors, each punishable by up to 30 days in prison and a fine of $ 500, Ms Sovell said.
Mr Ravnsborg, 44, was traveling 67 miles per hour when the Ford Taurus he was driving struck Joe Boever on the shoulder of US Highway 14 outside Highmore, SD, authorities said. Mr Ravnsborg told authorities at the scene of the accident that he believed he had struck a large animal such as a deer. It was not until the next day, authorities said, that Mr Ravnsborg returned to the scene of the crash and found Mr Boever’s body.
Prosecutors insisted that their criminal investigation into the actions of Mr Ravnsborg, elected in 2018, was impartial. They noted that South Dakota does not have a negligent homicide law, which they say makes it more difficult for prosecutors to lay charges of manslaughter in traffic accidents.
“Mr. Ravnsborg was not treated any differently than any other person would have been treated under these circumstances,” Ms. Sovell said.
Although the evidence showed that Mr Ravnsborg had used a cell phone more than a minute before the accident, the two phones he had with him were locked at the time of the accident and he was not talking to them , prosecutors said.
Mr Ravnsborg’s chief of staff on Thursday sent requests for comment to a personal spokesperson for Mr Ravnsborg, who did not immediately respond to a phone message.
In a statement to The Associated Press on Thursday, Mr Ravnsborg said: “I appreciate more than ever that the presumption of innocence placed in our legal system continues to operate.”
He added that he could not imagine the “pain and loss” of Mr Boever’s family.
The family of Mr Boever, 55, whose van was broken down in a nearby ditch, criticized the outcome of the investigation.
“I think he received preferential treatment,” Victor Nemec, a first cousin of Mr Boever, said on Thursday of Mr Ravnsborg. “This state has a long tradition of being kind to its elected officials when they commit wrongdoing. There’s a network of good old boys here in the running of the state. “
Mr Nemec said Mr Boever’s widow should take legal action against Mr Ravnsborg. Mr Boever had worked as a nurse’s aide and in a grocery store, but had recently been employed to help his cousin transport hay to his cattle ranch.
“My heart goes out to the family of Joseph Boever,” Ms. Noem said. “I will not comment on the details of Ms. Sovell’s decision. I ask the Department of Public Safety to share further details of the investigation with the public over the next week.
Prosecutors said Thursday that Mr Ravnsborg had cooperated with investigators since the day after the collision, from calling 911 to providing a blood sample the next day for toxicology testing. He also gave investigators access to his cell phones, prosecutors said.
The toxicology results showed no signs that Mr Ravnsborg was under the influence of alcohol or drugs, prosecutors said. The victim’s family asked why Mr Ravnsborg was not tested the night of the crash.
“I know that for every prosecutor there is probably a very visceral reaction to road accidents that result in death,” Ms. Sovell said. “The job of prosecutors, however, is to examine the facts, examine the evidence, apply the laws and standards they provide, and that is exactly what was done in this case.
Michael Moore, the state attorney for Beadle County, told the press conference that prosecutors could only lay more serious charges if a person was driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs and was driving the vehicle recklessly.
“The investigation was second to none,” said Mr. Moore, who informed Mr. Boever’s family earlier Thursday. “They obviously don’t like our decision in this case. As we all know, victims don’t make this decision.
Marie Fazio contributed reporting.