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A politician who believed he ran over a deer discovered he had actually hit and killed a man who was walking along the highway on Saturday night.
South Dakota Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg said he immediately called 911 after the crash on a rural stretch of US Highway 14 and did not realise he had hit a man until returning to the scene the next morning and finding his body while looking for the animal he thought he hit.
The state’s top law enforcement officer was driving home from a Republican fundraiser on Saturday night and is now under investigation by the South Dakota Highway Patrol.
Ravnsborg’s revelation that he had found the body of the man, 55-year-old Joseph Boever, was the latest twist in a grim incident where information has come out slowly.
The Department of Public Safety issued a statement on Monday that said only that Ravnsborg told the Hyde County Sheriff’s Office that he had hit a deer.
Department spokesman Tony Mangan would not confirm whether Ravnsborg called 911, saying it is part of the investigation.
Authorities identified the dead man as Mr Boever on Monday.
He had crashed his truck in that area earlier, according to relatives, and was apparently walking near the road toward it.
Republican Gov. Kristi Noem had revealed on Sunday that Ravnsborg was involved in a fatal crash and asked the Department of Public Safety to investigate, but neither she nor the agency had provided any details.
The North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation is also participating in the investigation. The South Dakota Division of Criminal Investigation, which would normally be involved, is part of the attorney general’s office. It is standard practice to request an outside agency to conduct an investigation when there may be a conflict of interest.
Ravnsborg said on Sunday he was “shocked and filled with sorrow”.
He released a second statement on Monday night detailing his account of the accident, saying it was necessary to dispel rumours.
Ravnsborg said he was driving from a Republican fundraiser in Redfield to his home some 177 kilometers away when his vehicle hit something he believed to be a large animal.
Ravnsborg said he called 911 and then looked around his vehicle in the dark, using a cell phone flashlight.
He said that all he could see were pieces of his vehicle.
After Hyde County Sheriff Mike Volek arrived, the two men surveyed the damage and filled out paperwork for his car to be repaired.
“At no time did either of us suspect that I had been in an accident with a person,” Ravnsborg said.
With his car wrecked, Ravnsborg said he borrowed the sheriff’s personal car to return to his home in Pierre. The next morning, he and chief of staff Tim Bormann drove back to return the sheriff’s car.
They stopped at the spot of the accident, where Ravnsborg said he discovered Mr Boever’s body in the grass just off the shoulder of the road. He said it was apparent Mr Boever was dead.
Ravnsborg said he drove to Volek’s house and reported the dead body.
They both returned to the accident scene, where Volek said he would handle the investigation and asked Ravnborg to return to Pierre, according to Ravnsborg’s statement.
Ravnsborg said he was cooperating with the investigation, including providing a blood sample, agreeing to have both of his cell phones searched, and interviewing with law enforcement agents.
Mr Boever’s family members said they felt frustrated and suspicious with the investigation, especially after investigators took nearly 22 hours to allow them to identify Mr Boever’s body.
Mr Boever had crashed his truck into a hay bale near the road earlier Saturday evening, according to his cousin Victor Nemec.
Mr Nemec had given Mr Boever a ride home, which was about 2.4 kilometers away, and made plans to make repairs on Sunday.
He left Mr Boever after 9pm. The crash that killed him happened around 10.30pm. Mr Nemec said “there was no indication whatsoever” that his cousin had been drinking.
Despite being the last known person to see Mr Boever alive, Mr Nemec said that besides answering a few brief questions when he identified the body, investigators have not questioned him about what happened.
“A human doesn’t look like a deer,” he said. “The whole thing stinks to me.”
When Mr Boever’s cousins on Sunday could not find him at his home and saw an accident being investigated near where he had left his truck, they grew fearful that he was involved.
Mr Nemec said he contacted the sheriff around 10am and was told to wait. As the hours ticked on, they grew more suspicious and called 911 and the Highway Patrol after 5pm. They were allowed to identify his body after 8pm on Sunday.
Ravnsborg had been at a fundraising dinner hosted by the Spink County Republicans at Rooster’s Bar & Grill.
The attorney general is known to be a frequent attendee of the fundraisers known as Lincoln Day Dinners, held by county GOP groups across the state.
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