No criminal charges will be filed in connection with a May 3 accident east of Yankton that killed 23-year-old Joseph Bret Jackson.
Yankton County State’s Attorney Rob Klimisch told the Press & Dakotan Wednesday afternoon that an investigation concluded the vehicle was operating within the speed limit and that Jackson was laying in the middle of the westbound lane of 309th St./Old Highway 50 west of East Side Drive when the incident occurred.
“We overturned every rock we could and determined we were not finding enough evidence to even bring charges to a grand jury,” Klimisch said.
In the months since the accident occurred, his office has been examining evidence and discussing the case with law enforcement. The case was investigated by the Yankton County Sheriff’s Office, the Yankton Police Department and the South Dakota Division of Criminal Investigation.
“Usually, we’re in the position of putting forward and proving a case,” Deputy State’s Attorney Erich Johnke said. “We didn’t have the facts to support that. It’s unusual for us to explain why we didn’t charge anything in a case like this.”
Klimisch has decided not to release the name of the driver of the 1988 Ford Thunderbird that DNA evidence has linked to the incident.
“We didn’t feel it was appropriate to release the name when we’re not going to pursue any charges,” he said. “Because of the seriousness of the case and not wanting to cause any more concern and stress for the individual, we thought that was the best thing to do.”
The name has been provided to the family should it want to pursue civil litigation, Johnke stated.
Several witnesses told investigators that they had seen an individual — believed to be Jackson — walking along that stretch of Old Highway 50 between 2 a.m. and 4 a.m. May 3, and one of them said the individual jumped in front of their vehicle. That person was able to swerve and not hit the person.
“Jackson was laying on the ground in dark clothing (when he was killed),” Klimisch said. “There was a high intoxication level. Other individuals drove down the same road, and he was jumping out at their cars.”
Jackson had a blood-alcohol content of .307 at the time of his death.
The investigation showed the Thunderbird was traveling 54 mph in a 55 mph zone at the time of impact.
“If we were looking at facts to show a guy was driving 80 mph carelessly or recklessly down the highway, we don’t have those facts,” Johnke said. “We don’t have any information that leads us to believe he was drinking, either.”
Very little damage was done to the Thunderbird.
“There was no damage to the license plate, the bumper — anything to show that Jackson was standing up or even sitting up on the road,” Klimisch said.
Some small pieces of plastic were broken off the lower region of the car.
“The person initially believed they struck an animal in the road,” Klimisch stated. “All his actions are not the actions of someone who believed they had hit a person. He went into town during the early hours like he does all the time. He even goes back home in that direction.”
The investigation showed the driver went to a fitness center for approximately an hour and at around 5 a.m. encountered a checkpoint where he spoke with a Yankton County deputy.
“A Yankton County deputy talks to him, and the guy knew he had hit something, but he didn’t have any connection that the roadblock was because of something that he hit,” Johnke said. “Our opinion is, the criminal intent necessary to even commit a hit-and-run had to occur at the time you hit the person in the road. We just don’t have the evidence to show that he knew at the time that he hit a person.”
Three or four days after the accident, Klimisch said the man began to have second thoughts about what he might have hit and shared his concerns with co-workers.
That’s what led the Yankton County Sheriff’s Office to seize the Thunderbird in Mission Hill May 13.
Although rumors have swirled about how Jackson came to be in the road, there is no evidence of foul play prior to the accident.
“We were able to account for where Jackson was at until about 2:30 in the morning, and it would be consistent with him walking out in that direction,” Johnke said.
The investigation also didn’t reveal any evidence that Jackson was hit by more than one vehicle.
Johnke said Jackson’s mother has been informed of the decision not to press any charges.
“His mother understands the circumstances and didn’t express any concern with the decision not to prosecute,” he stated.
Added Klimisch, “If there was litigation of some sort done by the family, we would cooperate with them and provide them with everything we’ve obtained.”
Jackson had recently moved back to Yankton after spending some time in Minnesota. He was to have started a new job with a local construction firm days after his death.