The tragedy of last September’s car accident involving South Dakota Attorney General Jason Ravsnborg has taken a new twist that adds more mystery and pain to what has been a slow-motion search for accountability, but it also stands as an essential part of this process.
Late on Sept. 12, a vehicle driven by Ravnsborg struck a pedestrian, Joe Boever, who was walking on the side of a highway in Hyde County. Ravsnborg, knowing he had struck something given the damage to his vehicle, contacted the sheriff, who then allowed the AG to drive to Pierre in another vehicle. The next morning, Ravnsborg returned to the crash site to, he said, clear debris from the road, and that’s when he found Boever’s body.
Late last week, Ravnsborg’s attorney filed a motion asking that Boever’s “psychiatric and/or psychological records” be included in the court proceedings because, the defense now alleges, Boever may have been suicidal and could have possibly thrown himself in front of Ravnsborg’s car on that dark night. The judge granted the request.
To most of us, this filing looks like a desperate tactic to shift the blame in the incident to the victim. However, it’s spurred by a claim made by one of the victim’s cousins who said, “I believe with a very high degree of confidence Joe committed suicide.”
Another Boever cousin, Nick Nemec, disagreed with the accusation and criticized the maneuver as a “fishing expedition.” Yet another Boever cousin, Victor Nemec, also dismissed the charge, noting Boever had said “suicide is not an option.”
This has turned what has already been an issue filled with grim twists and turns into an even darker episode.
But Ravnsborg, who is scheduled to go to trial late next month on misdemeanor charges related to the incident, does have the right to a fair trial, like any person, and is presumed innocent until proven guilty. And if this latest defensive tactic is part of that path, it can be given due consideration.
However, it remains difficult to find much sympathy for the attorney general in this tragic situation.
He is facing three misdemeanor charges — using an electronic device while driving, illegal lane change and careless driving — none of which technically have anything to do with Boever’s death. So, trying to, in effect, shift the blame to a dead man whose own death isn’t even the subject of any legal charge here is a bluntly calculated maneuver.
This is an effort to change the perception of the situation. An investigation of the scene indicated the collision occurred on the shoulder of the highway, and the victim’s glasses were found in the car after his head smashed into the windshield on the impact. Claiming now that this may have happened more in the middle of the road and was part of a suicide attempt seems to be a reach.
Ultimately, the latest tactic might be viewed as an attempt to change the focus of this matter in order to salvage the political fortunes of the accused, who is up for reelection next year.
But again, this is Ravnsborg’s right and it is part of our judicial process.
However, this latest twist also magnifies the pain for Boever’s family and friends — which may be legally irrelevant, but it is not unimportant — and it continues to drag out a process that has already gone on for too long.
South Dakotans will certainly watch all this play out to its conclusion, but no matter the outcome, there can be no sense of satisfaction, one way or the other.