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South Dakota AG fatally struck man with car, initially told authorities he hit a deer

Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg struck and killed a pedestrian Saturday evening, the South Dakota Department of Public Safety said.
Jason Ravnsborg
South Dakota Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg, with a bipartisan group of state attorneys general, speaks to reporters in front of the Supreme Court in Washington on Sept. 9, 2019.Manuel Balce Ceneta / AP file

The attorney general of South Dakota reported hitting a deer with his car Saturday night, but authorities say he struck and killed a pedestrian whose body wasn't found until Sunday morning.

Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg fatally struck Joseph Boever in a pedestrian-vehicle crash over the weekend, the state Public Safety Department confirmed to NBC News. Ravnsborg's office says it was a "tragic accident." Boever's family has expressed frustration over the lack of information from officials and have doubts about Ravnsborg's account.

"There is a clear difference between a human and a deer," Victor Nemec, Boever's cousin, said Monday.

At 10:30 p.m. Saturday, Ravnsborg reported to the Hyde County Sheriff's Office that he had hit a deer while driving on U.S. Highway 14, according to a statement from the Public Safety Department, which oversees the state's Highway Patrol.

The department didn't say how long it took for Ravnsborg to call local authorities after the collision or how he came to the conclusion that he had hit a deer.

The body of Boever, 55, of Highmore, was discovered the following morning. Ravnsborg wasn't injured.

No other details have been disclosed, including how Boever's body was discovered or whether local authorities responded to the scene at the time Ravnsborg reported hitting a deer.

According to Nemec, Boever called him for help at about 7:50 p.m. Saturday after accidentally having driven his truck into a ditch at Highway 14. He gave his cousin a ride home and told him that they could get his damaged pickup the next morning.

Nemec said that he left Boever's house "between 9 and 9:30" and that he believes Boever returned to his car that evening to retrieve something from the vehicle. He's unsure why he didn't wait until the next day.

When Boever didn't answer several calls from Nemec on Sunday morning, Nemec drove to his cousin's house. While on the road, he saw the pickup in the same spot. He also passed a fleet of firefighters, state troopers and local officials on the way to the house.

It wasn't until Nemec reached the empty house that he began to suspect that the crowd of state and local officials he saw on his way over had something to do with his missing cousin.

"I searched every room for him," he said. "I was getting concerned and anxious."

That Sunday afternoon, Gov. Kristi Noem announced at a news conference that Ravnsborg had been involved in a fatal crash.

At the same briefing, Craig Price, the secretary of public safety, said the Highway Patrol was investigating, but he declined to answer any further questions because the investigation is ongoing.

Nemec said that after he shared his concerns to the sheriff's office and the 911 dispatcher continually throughout the day, he filed an official missing persons report that evening.

At around 7:30 p.m., he and his brother, Nick Nemec, were asked to go to the funeral home to identify their cousin. There, a state trooper, the funeral home director and the investigator overseeing the accident took out a body bag.

"We were warned that the body was damaged, and so they only unzipped the top portion of the body bag so we could only see the head and shoulders," he said. "We knew right away it was my first cousin."

As of Monday evening, Nemec said, officials had asked him and his brother several questions but had yet to take official statements from them.

"I'm angry and sad that it took this long for them to identify him," Nemec said.

Ravnsborg's chief of staff, Timothy Bormann, said in a statement that the incident was "a tragic accident."

"The Office of the Attorney General extends our deepest sympathy and condolences to the family of Mr. Boever," Bormann said. "The Attorney General, and our office, are cooperating fully with the ongoing investigation of this event and will continue to do so."

Nemec said he wishes there was a little more transparency from state officials.

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"We're a small rural town, and something like this creates a commotion," he said. "This was all kept hush-hush, and I want there to be accountability for my cousin's death.

"I don't know what the truth is, but I have my doubts whether an official 911 call was made after the accident," he said.