The tragic traffic accident involving South Dakota’s attorney general that occurred on a dark night 10 days ago has given us a grim diversion from our daily coronavirus struggles.
Perhaps the accident in which AG Jason Ravnsborg, formerly of Yankton, struck and killed a pedestrian walking along a country highway will fade from our radar as the investigation drags on and other events tug our attentions elsewhere.
But that mustn’t happen, at least in terms of the information that the investigators need to provide to the public. There are still many things we need to know.
Here’s roughly what we know: Ravnsborg, while returning to Pierre from a Republican Party function in Highmore, stuck something along Highway 12 at approximately 10:30 p.m. on the night of Sept. 12. He said he thought he had hit a deer. He contacted the Hyde County sheriff to notify him of the accident, and the sheriff loaned the AG a car to return to Pierre. The next day, it was discovered that Ravnsborg’s vehicle had actually struck a man, Joseph Boever, who was walking along the road apparently after crashing his pickup truck. We also know that the victim was reported missing by family members on the morning of Sept. 13 and that the victim’s body was identified by family later that night.
To date, the biggest release of additional information on this matter came in a lengthy email statement that Ravnsborg himself sent out early last week to explain his side of the story. One of the key things that came from this email, which was sent very late on Monday night, Sept. 14, was that he said he was the one who found the body of the victim the next morning when the AG and a staff member drove through the area where the accident occurred. Ravnsborg said they stopped to clear debris from the roadway.
The day after Ravnsborg sent out his email, a hastily-called media briefing was held with Gov. Kristi Noem and Col. Craig Price of the South Dakota Highway Patrol that lasted less than 15 minutes and offered few new details or answers. Ravnsborg has not been placed on administrative leave while an investigation is being conducted by agencies from three different states. Indeed, little new information has been released in the week since.
But reporters have continued to dig. South Dakota News Watch reported in a story published in Saturday’s Press & Dakotan that a traffic-accident reconstruction expert was “casting doubt on the claim” by Ravnsborg that he thought he hit a deer, citing, among other things, the damage done to the attorney general’s car.
Nevertheless, we are confronting numerous nagging unknowns — questions that simply have to be answered not only for the sake of the victim’s family but also for the sake of the people of this state.
This situation must not be allowed to descend into a cloud of rumors and speculations. In fact, the need to avoid that situation is the reason Ravnsborg cited for sending out his email last week.
To that end, openness remains the best approach in this situation.
We all mourn this loss of life and want logical explanations to bring closure to this terrible event. (There likely won’t be any closure for the family of the victim or, one suspects, for Ravnsborg himself.) But the process must be as open as possible. While we understand that the investigation is ongoing, there has been very little information coming forth on this very public matter involving an elected official. The public needs to know what progress is being made and that this case isn’t going to be allowed to simply fade away.