SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — South Dakota Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg sounded more embarrassed than rattled when he called 911 from the side of a highway the night of Sept. 12.
"I'm the attorney general," he told the dispatcher. "And I am .... I don't know ... I hit something."
Ravnsborg had struck Highmore resident Joe Boever, who later died of his injuries and wasn't discovered until the next morning, when Ravnsborg said he found Boever by the side of the road upon returning to the scene of the crash.
But in the 911 call recording, Ravnsborg isn't sure what he hit on U.S. Highway 14, just west of Highmore, with his Ford Taurus. The dispatcher asked if he hit a deer, a not-uncommon occurrence on rural South Dakota highways.
"Yeah, it could be," Ravnsborg said. "I mean, it was right in the roadway."
Gov. Kristi Noem and Craig Price, her public safety secretary, held a press conference in Sioux Falls on Tuesday, Oct. 13, to release the 911 call audio, a transcript and toxicology reports collected from blood drawn from the state attorney general the day after the crash. The material was posted on the South Dakota Department of Public Safety website after the press conference.
"This investigation is still ongoing, so this is what we were able to release at this time," Price said. "As the governor has previously stated, the investigation will be released when it is complete and at the appropriate time."
Noem said she hadn't spoken to Ravnsborg since the crash, and said she had not asked him to resign.
Price generally refused to provide additional details about the Ravnsborg investigation, including after getting a question about Ravnsborg's phone, and said the department typically didn't release photos of vehicles involved in fatal crashes.
He did confirm Boever's cause of death, from a preliminary autopsy report, was traumatic injury due to a pedestrian/motor vehicle crash.
"Injuries were extensive, both internal and external," he said.
Blood tests of questionable value
Two days after the crash, Ravnsborg released a statement admitting to hitting and killing Boever, but said he thought the man was a deer. He said he searched that night for a body but didn't find Boever until he returned to the site of the crash the next morning.
Ravnsborg had returned to Highmore from Pierre Sunday morning to return a borrowed car to Hyde County Sheriff Mike Volek, who lives nearby and had responded to the crash scene the previous evening, Ravnsborg said.
The toxicology reports indicate Ravnsborg wasn't under the influence of drugs or alcohol when testing took place at about 1:30 p.m. on Sept. 13, about 15 hours after the crash. But the delay makes those tests relatively useless in terms of proving whether or not Ravnsborg was under the influence of any substance when he hit Boever.
Price said research shows a "normal body" dissipates alcohol at a level of 0.015% an hour. Using that math shows an individual could have a blood-alcohol level of 0.225, nearly three times the legal driving limit of 0.08, and still test free of alcohol 15 hours later.
When asked if a blood sample should have been collected from Ravnsborg that night, theoretically by Hyde County Sheriff Mike Volek, who responded to the crash, Price said he wouldn't speculate on the work of others.
Price said the Department of Public Safety aims for about a 30-day turnaround for fatal crash investigations. Tuesday was the 31st day from the crash. But he said there were some facets that were adding to how long the investigation was taking.
The North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation is assisted the South Dakota Highway Patrol, so that adds travel time to the investigation, Price said. Investigators are also awaiting a full autopsy report, which is being conducted by the Ramsey County Coroner's Office in Minnesota.
Price was told the report is about 2-5 weeks away from completion, he said.
"Those things add to the complexity and some things add to the timeline of what we're expected to do," Price said.
Fugleberg can be followed on Twitter at @jayfug and reached at email@example.com or 605-777-3357.