By MEREDITH DELISO, ABC News
(HYDE COUNTY, S.D.) — South Dakota Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg faces three misdemeanor charges after fatally striking a pedestrian on a highway in September, officials announced Thursday.
The charges include operating a motor vehicle while using a mobile device, lane driving violation and careless driving, Emily Sovell, the Sully County state’s attorney and Hyde County deputy state’s attorney in South Dakota, said during a press briefing.
Ravnsborg, 44, was not on his cell phone at the time of the accident but was outside the lanes of travel, Sovell said, when he hit the 55-year-old victim, Joseph Boever, in Hyde County in central South Dakota on Sept. 12.
An investigation completed a month after the crash initially determined that Ravnsborg was distracted when he struck Boever with his 2011 Ford Taurus. But on Thursday, Beadle County State’s Attorney Michael Moore said that at the time of impact, Ravnsborg was not a distracted driver.
“We know that because his phones were analyzed,” Moore said, noting that Ravnsborg had two cell phones on him at the time. “His phones were locked approximately 1 minute and 15 seconds prior to the impact.”
The accident did not meet the conditions for manslaughter, Sovell announced, noting that toxicology reports previously released showed Ravnsborg was not under the influence of any drugs or alcohol.
“For vehicular homicide in South Dakota, it requires that one be under the influence of alcohol, drugs or substances in a manner and a degree prohibited by law, without design to affect death, but that ultimately after negligent actions, results in the death of another human being,” Sovell said. “That’s simply not applicable in this case.”
Sovell stressed that the investigation of the high-ranking official was “very, very thorough.”
“There was no delay by the prosecutors,” she said. “It was a smart decision for prosecutors to await all of the evidence before we came to our final decision in this case.”
The North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation headed the investigation, and the South Dakota Highway Patrol provided accident reconstruction, Sovell said. The state’s attorneys for Beadle and Pennington counties in South Dakota also reviewed the case, she said.
Moore called it a “tragic accident.”
“The victim’s remedy is in civil court, not criminal court,” Beadle County’s state’s attorney said during the briefing.
The maximum penalty for each charge if convicted is 30 days in jail, a $500 fine or both. A special judge will likely be appointed, and Ravnsborg will be summoned to court “at that point in time,” Sovell said.
In a statement, Ravnsborg said this has been a “difficult and trying time for everyone involved.”
“I appreciate, more than ever, that the presumption of innocence placed within our legal system continues to work,” he said. “I have always practiced this in my professional life and I understand it even better now as I see that we live in a society where every person enjoys the protection of the law.
“I have and will continue to pray for Joe Boever and his family,” the statement continued. “I cannot imagine their pain and loss and I do send my deepest condolences to them.”
Ravnsborg was alone while driving west in a rural area on U.S. Highway 14, about a mile west of Highmore, South Dakota, when the accident occurred.
Investigators were unable to determine how long he was outside the lane of travel and if Ravnsborg realized that he was, Moore said.
Ravnsborg told authorities he initially thought he hit a deer. He previously disclosed that he called 911. He said he searched a ditch with the Hyde County sheriff using a cell phone flashlight looking for the deer at around 10:30 p.m. on Sept. 12. He said he discovered Boever’s body when he returned to the scene the next day and reported his discovery to the sheriff. On Thursday, Sovell and Moore confirmed that sequence of events.
Boever was carrying a light while walking on the shoulder of Highway 14, which measures about 10.5 feet, when he was struck, authorities said in November. The initial cause of death was listed as traumatic injuries — both internal and external.
The Boever family was informed of the charging decision earlier Thursday, Moore said.
“They obviously don’t like our decision in this case, but as we all know, victims don’t make this decision,” he said.
Ravnsborg, who was elected in 2018, was not placed under administrative leave and continued to work after the crash.
The attorney general has a string of previous driving violations, according to state records. He pleaded guilty to speeding six times between 2014 and 2018 and paid fines between $19 and $79, according to state records.
ABC News’ Karma Allen, Joshua Hoyos, Julia Jacobo, Jen Leong and Ivan Pereira contributed to this report.
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