Question: Have you ever hit a deer and not known what it was? Me, neither. I've hit three of them over the years, and each time I knew exactly what it was. Beyond a reasonable doubt.
So South Dakota Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg's claim that he didn't realize that he hit and killed a human being on U.S. Highway 14 near Highmore, S.D., on Sept. 12 strains credulity.
Ravnsborg said in a lengthy press release that he didn't drink alcohol at a GOP Lincoln Day Dinner in Redfield, S.D., before the accident, and has corroboration from South Dakota Senate President Pro Tempore Brock Greenfield. Greenfield, however, may not be your go-to character witness in a situation like this; he arrived slurringly drunk for the final 3 a.m. legislative session on April 1 along with Senate Majority Leader Kris Langer.
Ravnsborg said he left Redfield about 9:15 p.m. and, after traveling through Highmore, about 70 miles away, struck "something" (the victim, Joseph Boever, 55) at about 10:30 p.m. That pencils out favorably to an average speed of 56 mph for a man with a history of speeding violations. The top speed limit on Highway 14 is 65 mph.
However, the windshield on the passenger side of the 2011 Ford Taurus was blown out, from photos believed to be Ravnsborg's car. Based on the damage to the car and the body, investigators should be able to establish how fast Ravnsborg was driving when he hit Boever. The car's computer, cellphone GPS and dash-cam (if one was in use) may also provide evidence.
Hyde County Sheriff Mike Volek, who responded to the 911 call, loaned Ravnsborg his personal vehicle for the drive back to Pierre, which suggests that he didn't suspect Ravnsborg of drinking. Suggests.
But you know how suspicious people can be when it comes to government officials investigating other government officials. They might wonder if, one law officer to another, Ravnsborg caught a break. But I think we can all agree that in America you're presumed innocent until proven guilty if you're even charged at all. Sometimes there's a “lack of conclusive evidence” (like having your blood drawn the next day).
While we're speculating, how is it that two officers of the law, one of them experienced in the field, were unable to find a body lying just off the shoulder of the road in grass estimated unofficially to be just 8 inches deep?
Ravnsborg reports that he alerted his chief of staff that night to the accident and arranged for them to return Volek's car the next morning. He says they left at 8 a.m. — a quick turnaround — for the 50-mile drive back. Why the sense of urgency?
Ravnsborg says he discovered Boever's body when he and his chief of staff stopped to search for "the deer." Do drivers routinely return to the scene of the deer strike?
Another question remains: What was Ravnsborg looking at the moment Boever's body smashed a gaping hole through the windshield? Up to 10 years, if it's second-degree manslaughter. But we're speaking hypothetically. Maybe Ravnsborg's long-winded story adds up. It sounds a lot like algebra, though. The truth is usually less complicated.
Joseph Boever's funeral is scheduled for Thursday, Sept. 24.
Tony Bender writes an exclusive weekly column for Forum News Service.