Two cousins of the man killed when a car driven by South Dakota Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg struck him say they worry the investigation into the incident is not being handled properly.
Victor and Nick Nemec are both cousins of Joseph Boever, 55, who was killed when Ravnsborg struck him with his car along U.S. Highway 14 west of Highmore, S.D. while driving back from a political event at 10:30 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 12.
Officials say that Ravnsborg, who has a recent history of speeding tickets, reported to the local sheriff that he believed he had struck a deer when in fact he had struck and killed Boever. Boever’s body was found on the morning of Sunday, Sept. 13; an investigation into the accident is ongoing.
The Nemecs, who made the official identification of Boever’s body on Sunday, independently told South Dakota News Watch that they were worried that investigators might not make a complete effort to find out the full truth about what happened to their cousin.
The brothers said they wonder why it took so long for investigators to contact them about identifying their cousin’s body, even though Victor Nemec had contacted the Hyde County Sheriff’s Office about 10 hours earlier with his concerns that Boever was missing and may have been involved in the Highmore collision. Victor Nemec had also told authorities earlier that Boever’s truck was in the ditch near the accident scene.
“It took them 10 hours from the time my brother essentially solved the unidentified body for them at 10 o’clock in the morning saying, ‘We’re missing our cousin, Joe, and we can’t find him. And that’s his pickup in the ditch,’” said Nick Nemec, a former Democratic state legislator. “It just seems fishy; it just seems like they’re looking for an excuse to make it less than it was.”
Furthermore, Victor Nemec said he was likely the last person to see Boever alive, but as of Sept. 14, no investigator had contacted him to ask questions or give a statement.
“I believe they’re more interested in getting their story straight before they actually ask me questions,” Victor Nemec said. “I told them that I was probably one of the last people to see my cousin alive. I could make any kind of statement that they needed. And they really didn’t acknowledge that.”
Ravnsborg: No alcohol consumed and sheriff called immediately
On the evening of Sept. 14, Ravnsborg issued his own statement in an effort to counter what he said are “rumors and stories being told that don’t reflect a full and factual account of what happened.”
In his statement, Ravnsborg said he did not drink any alcohol before, during or after the Lincoln Day Dinner and left the event to return home to Pierre at about 9:15 on Sept. 12. Shortly after passing through the town of Highmore, Ravnsborg said in his statement, he struck Boever, causing severe damage to his vehicle. At the time, Ravnsborg said, he thought he had hit a deer.
Ravnsborg said that he stopped immediately and called Hyde County Sheriff Mike Volek before searching by using the light on his cell phone to look around his vehicle. Ravnsborg said he didn’t see anything that offered a clue as to what he’d hit.
“All I could see were pieces of my vehicle laying on and around the roadway,” Ravnsborg said.
When Volek arrived, he too inspected Ravnsborg’s vehicle and tried to find what the attorney general had hit, according to Ravsnborg’s statement. The sheriff couldn’t find anything either, Ravnsborg said. The vehicle was too badly damaged to drive, so Volek loaned Ravnsborg his personal vehicle so he could finish the drive to Pierre.
“At no time did either of us suspect that I had been involved in an accident with a person,” Ravnsborg.
Ravnsborg said he and his chief of staff, Tim Bormann, drove back to Highmore at about 8 a.m. on Sept. 13 to return Volek’s car. On the way into Highmore, Ravnsborg said, he spotted some wreckage from his car and stopped to try to figure out what he had hit. It was then that he and Bormann discovered Boever’s body, according to Ravnsborg’s statement.
“As I walked along the shoulder of the road, I discovered the body of Mr. Boever in the grass just off the roadway,” Ravnsborg said in his statement. “My chief of staff and I checked and it was apparent that Mr. Boever was deceased.”
Ravnsborg said he drove immediately to Volek’s home to inform the sheriff of what he’d found. Volek and Ravnsborg returned to Boever’s body. Ravnsborg said the sheriff told him to return to Pierre and so that Volek could begin an investigation into the crash.
Since then, Ravnsborg said, he has been cooperating fully with the investigation into the crash. He said he has agreed to have both of his cell phones searched, provided a blood draw, gave investigators names of people at the dinner in Redfield who would confirm that he hadn’t been drinking and sat down with investigators for a full interview about the incident.
Because the investigation is ongoing, Ravnsborg said, he would not be answering further questions about the incident.
Boever was killed when he was struck by a 2011 Ford Taurus driven by Ravnsborg on U.S. Highway 14 about half a mile west of Highmore in central South Dakota. According to a Sept. 14 news release from the South Dakota Department of Public Safety, Ravnsborg called the Hyde County Sheriff’s Office after striking Boever to report that he thought he had hit a deer.
Boever’s body wasn’t found until Sunday morning, the release said, and the investigation into the fatality did not begin until after the body was discovered. The release does not indicate when Ravnsborg called authorities to report the accident. The release said Ravnsborg was not injured.
Victor Nemec said that Boever was likely walking to the white Ford pickup he had left disabled in the westbound ditch of the highway after having struck a large, round hay bale about a mile west of the junction of highways 14 and 47, earlier in the day on Sept. 12. After hitting the hay bale, Boever had called and asked Victor Nemec for help and a ride back to his home on Commercial Avenue in Highmore. That call came in at around 7 p.m.
Victor Nemec met Boever at his disabled pickup and after a quick inspection of the damage, the pair decided they would wait until the next day to try to move the truck. Nemec took Boever home and the pair made a plan to meet the next morning. Nemec said he left Boever at his home at about 8:30 p.m.
On his way into Highmore to pick Boever up Sunday morning, Victor Nemec said he saw a highway patrol cruiser sitting on the highway not far from his cousin’s pickup. About a quarter-mile east of the pickup, the westbound lane of Highway 14 was blocked off by emergency vehicles and traffic was being directed over a single lane.
As he passed the scene of the collision, Victor Nemec said he began to worry about his cousin. “I was already getting a sinking feeling in my stomach,” he said.
When Boever didn’t answer a knock on his door, Victor Nemec discovered that it was unlocked and decided to search the small, one-bedroom house. The lights were still on but Boever was nowhere to be found. Victor Nemec then decided to call the Hyde County Sheriff and let someone know that he was worried that Boever may have been involved in the collision west of Highmore.
The sheriff asked where Boever was and Nemec said he didn’t know. Then the sheriff told Nemec to wait in Boever’s house and that someone would contact him. No one ever did, Nemec said. Eventually, Nemec called the sheriff again and was told to go home and wait there.
At about 5:30 p.m., while watching the local news on T.V., Victor Nemec saw Gov. Kristi Noem and Department of Public Safety Secretary Craig Price give a news conference about a fatal collision involving Ravnsborg that occurred near Highmore.
Neither Noem nor Price offered many details on the collision, saying an investigation into the incident was ongoing.
Price said the South Dakota Highway Patrol, a division of the Department of Public Safety, was handling the investigation as is standard practice for fatalities on South Dakota highways.
“We will handle this as we would any other fatal crash,” Price said during the news conference.
Price will oversee the investigation and report directly to the Governor’s Office, Noem said. Officials have since said that investigators from the North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation will assist in the inquiry.
Immediately following the roughly three-minute Sioux Falls news conference, Ravnsborg himself issued a statement saying he was cooperating with the investigation.
”At this time I offer my deepest sympathy and condolences to the family. I am shocked and filled with sorrow following the events of last night. As Governor Noem stated, I am fully cooperating with the investigation and I fully intend to continue do so moving forward,” Ravnsborg said in the statement.
After watching the Noem news conference Sunday, Victor Nemec called his brother Nick, who also is a local rancher, and explained his fears that their cousin had been involved in the collision. Nick Nemec told his brother to call law enforcement and let someone know that their cousin was missing. Victor Nemec first called 911 and explained the situation to the operator. He then called the highway patrol office and said he was told the office was just receiving his 911 report.
At about 7:30 p.m. Sunday, an investigator called Victor Nemec and asked him if he could go to a funeral home in Highmore to identify Boever’s body. Victor Nemec then called his brother and asked him to come to the funeral home, too.
When the Nemecs arrived at the funeral home, no one was there, Victor Nemec said. The brothers waited for about 10 minutes before the funeral director, driving a minivan equipped as a hearse, and a highway patrol vehicle pulled into the parking lot.
The funeral director pulled her vehicle up to an overhead door, opened up the minivan’s back hatch and pulled out a body bag.
“They warned my brother and I, that this person was hit by a car, and the body wasn’t in good shape,” Victor Nemec said. “After they unzipped enough of the body bag to expose the head, we could tell it was our cousin.”
The last contact either Victor or Nick Nemec had with Boever was after Victor Nemec dropped Boever off at his home on the evening of Sept. 12. Victor Nemec said he stayed with Boever for about half an hour after taking a look at his truck and deciding to go back to it in the morning. Boever had recently separated from his wife and been diagnosed with diabetes.
“I was wondering if something was going on with his blood sugar levels,” Victor Nemec said. “We checked his blood sugar level and it was in the normal range. But I was still kind of concerned about it. But I figured he didn’t have his pickup, so at least he couldn’t drive anywhere.”
Boever moved to Highmore about four years earlier and had a history of struggling to keep steady work, Victor Nemec said.
“He was an unsettled soul,” Victor Nemec said.
The move to Highmore came after Boever, who had also lived in Brookings, left a job in Miller and called Victor Nemec to ask for help. Victor Nemec set Boever up in a small, one-bedroom room he owned in Highmore and over the last couple of years had given Boever some part-time work on the ranch when he was between full-time jobs.
Prior to the accident, Ravnsborg attended the Spink County Republican Party Lincoln Day Dinner, which was held at Rooster’s Bar & Grill in Redfield. According to the group’s website, the event was scheduled for 5 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., with a “social hour” at 5 p.m. and dinner at 6:30 p.m.
Facebook photos from the event show about two dozen people watching speakers at a podium; U.S. Sen. Mike Rounds is seen in the photos, as is Ravnsborg.
Redfield is about 69 miles from Highmore and about a 1-hour, 10-minute drive, according to Google Maps.
The site where the accident occurred west of Highmore was close to the spot where the speed limit through town is 45 mph but rises again to 65 mph heading west, Nick Nemec said.
On Friday night, the day before the accident, Ravnsborg attended the Lincoln Day Dinner held by the Pennington County GOP, according to his Facebook page. In Facebook posting, Ravnsborg wrote, “Just got home safely from the Pennington Lincoln Day Dinner around 1:15 a.m.” and that “Hope to see you all again soon and I will be in Redfield Saturday night to see the Spink County GOP!”
Tim Bormann, a spokesman for the Attorney General’s Office, told the Rapid City Journal on Sunday that Ravnsborg “drinks lightly,” and Bormann later said that Ravnsborg does not typically drink alcohol at Lincoln Day Dinner events.
Records from the South Dakota Unified Judicial System show that Ravnsborg has been cited for speeding on South Dakota highways six times between 2014 and 2018, including for driving 85 mph in a 65 mph zone in Faulk County in May 2015 and for driving 80 mph in a 65 mph zone in Pennington County in April 2018.
Ravnsborg, 44, is a Republican elected as attorney general in 2018; he has a law degree from the University of South Dakota. He previously worked in private practice in Yankton and was the deputy state’s attorney in Union County, S.D., according to his biography on the state website.
Ravnsborg is a combat veteran who served in Afghanistan and Iraq and was awarded the Bronze Star Medal; he remains a Lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army Reserves, the profile said.
In South Dakota, the Attorney General holds one of several executive offices that is subject to a popular election every four years; the attorney general serves as the state’s top law enforcement official and lawyer in both criminal and civil matters.
The accident on Saturday is not the first time a top South Dakota official has been involved in a traffic fatality. On Aug. 16, 2003, U.S. Rep. Bill Janklow of South Dakota ran a stop sign and killed a motorcyclist near Trent, S.D.
Janklow, a former state attorney general and four-term South Dakota governor, was convicted of second-degree manslaughter and was sentenced to 100 days in jail and probation. Janklow died in 2012.