There is a perception that something seemed frustratingly preordained last week when the charges to be filed against South Dakota Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg in connection with a fatal car accident last September were announced.
Granted, part of this was due to state law, which spells out the criteria for what could and couldn’t be filed given the circumstances of the Sept. 12 incident in which a car driven by Ravnsborg struck and killed Joe Boever, a Highmore man who was walking along U.S. Highway 14 in Hyde County late that night. It was announced that the incident would result in three misdemeanor charges: using a mobile electronic device while driving, failing to drive in a traffic lane and moving from a lane unsafely, and careless driving. Technically, one could sift through those charges and conclude that the attorney general is being charged solely for how he operated his vehicle, not for causing a death.
“I am disappointed but I’m not surprised,” said Nick Nemec, Boever’s cousin, after the charges were revealed. “I knew this was going to happen because I have researched state law. … In short, if no one is looking and you aren’t drunk, you can run over a pedestrian in this state and escape with only minor charges.”
Nevertheless, what’s also frustrating is the fact that the investigation took five long months to reach this conclusion. In that time, little insight was offered and the public was kept mostly in the dark. Fairly or unfairly, it created a feeling of inevitability that the end result would produce the mildest of results and the faintest accountability.
We can’t speak to any details or circumstances that have not been revealed, but one general perception has been that, if this accident had not involved a high-profile public official (let alone the top law enforcement officer in the state), the inquiry would likely have reached its conclusion long ago. There simply didn’t appear to be a lot of moving parts in this tragic scenario, relatively speaking.
There were certainly numerous questions when the incident occurred, as well as a few inconsistencies that needed to be ironed out.
This long investigation has not made those questions go away.
The results are unsatisfying: three misdemeanor charges that could lead to a maximum of three months in jail and $1,500 in fines. Meanwhile, there remains the matter of a man’s death, an incident in which the satisfaction of justice has so far been denied.
This issue appears far from over. Besides the actual trial regarding the misdemeanor charges, it now appears that Boever’s widow will file a wrongful death lawsuit in civil court. Meanwhile, the Argus Leader reported Sunday that some state lawmakers may be mulling impeachment charges against Ravnsborg. And on Monday, The Associated Press reported that Rep. Tim Goodwin (R-Rapid City), a GOP whip, is calling on Ravnsborg to resign as attorney general. These scenarios will bear watching.
Until we get more answers, the closure that this incident demands will remain elusive for all concerned — especially the family and friends of the victim, as well as for the state.