PIERRE (AP) — South Dakota’s Republican attorney general has been charged with misdemeanor careless driving after he struck and killed a man with his car last fall, authorities said Thursday.
Jason Ravnsborg is also facing misdemeanor charges of operating a motor vehicle while using a mobile electronic device and driving out of his lane, Emily Sovell, deputy Hyde County state’s attorney, announced. Authorities said he was not talking on his phone at the time of the crash.
Each charge is punishable by up to 30 days in jail and up to a $500 fine, Sovell said.
Sovell said the evidence didn’t support more serious felony charges such as vehicular homicide or manslaughter. She noted that nothing showed Ravnsborg was intoxicated at the time of the crash.
She also said that to prove manslaughter, the state would have had to show that Ravnsborg “consciously and unjustifiably” disregarded a substantial risk.
Ravnsborg has said he is confident he did not commit a crime, and that he was not drinking before the crash. He provided a blood sample and handed over his electronic devices to investigators. A toxicology report from a sample taken roughly 15 hours after the crash showed no alcohol in Ravnsborg’s system.
Boever’s family have questioned Ravnsborg’s account and expressed frustration as five months passed while they waited to find out whether he would face charges.
Nick Nemec, Boever’s cousin, said Thursday he was “disappointed, but not surprised” at the prosecutor’s decision. He called South Dakota law “weak” when it comes to manslaughter. He said he expected family members to bring civil action against Ravnsborg.
“I was afraid the charge would be something on the order of crossing the white line,” Nemec said. “And that’s exactly what the charge was.”
Beadle County State’s Attorney Michael Moore, who helped with the case, said the Boever family was told of the decision beforehand.
“I don’t feel good about it, but it’s the right decision,” Moore said.
He added: “Obviously when a person dies, we want to know what happened. But we’re limited by the investigation and by the facts. And we can’t compel someone to tell us. I mean, there’s just nowhere else to go.”
Ravnsborg did not immediately comment.
Ravnsborg, who was elected to his first term in 2018, initially told authorities he thought he had struck a deer or another large animal as he drove home to Pierre from a Republican fundraiser late on Sept. 12. He said he didn’t realize he had killed a man until he returned to the accident scene the next day.
Crash investigators said in November that Ravnsborg was distracted when he veered onto the shoulder of the highway where 55-year-old Joseph Boever was walking. But prosecutors took months more to make a charging decision in the crash, launching an investigation that considered cellphone GPS data, video footage from along Ravnsborg’s route and DNA evidence.
A crash reconstruction expert from Wyoming and the North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation assisted the South Dakota Highway Patrol in the investigation. Such accidents would ordinarily be investigated by the South Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation, which answers to the attorney general’s office. The other agencies took on the investigation to avoid a conflict of interest.
South Dakota law requires pedestrians to walk on the side of the road facing oncoming traffic when walking near highways like the one where the crash occurred.