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Woster: Ravnsborg shouldn’t need court order to do the right thing

SD Department of Public Safety

Let’s set aside for just a moment the impeachment discussions about South Dakota Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg.

Let’s set aside what most reasonable people might consider to be the light sentence — a few thousand dollars in court costs and fines, and no jail time — he received for killing Joe Boever in a vehicle-pedestrian accident.

Let’s set aside the possibility that Ravnsborg will not be impeached and will make a run at another term as AG at the Republican State Convention this summer.

And let’s set aside the politics involved in all this.

Let’s just talk about doing the right thing, which is what Jason Ravnsborg should do on or about the second Monday in September this year. That’s the 12th, the date Joe Boever died in 2020 — when the Ford Taurus Ravnsborg was driving drifted onto the shoulder and hit him.

Because Ravnsborg was distracted.

I don’t know how he was distracted. I don’t know if it was because he was re-setting his cruise control after passing through the small town of Highmore on U.S. Highway 14, as he indicated he did.

I don’t know if it was the cell phone that investigators said he was using shortly before the accident. I don’t know if he was still messing with that, or fiddling with a radio dial, or just looking off into the night skies of Hyde County just west of Highmore.

Maybe he was a little sleepy. I don’t know.

Whatever the distraction, it led to a lethal, horribly coincidental drift that allowed the 4,000-pound Taurus to cross the rumble strips onto the shoulder at an estimated speed of 67 miles per hour.

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Late-night distraction leads to horrid accident

And there it hit Boever, who was walking along the shoulder, carrying a lighted flashlight.

Most of the details of what that collision did to Boever in the horrific end to his 55 years on earth are best left out of this discussion. Let’s just say that they are awful. The impact left the right fender and headlight of Ravnsborg’s Taurus smashed, along with the right side of the windshield where Boever’s face hit it.

Part of Boever’s broken glasses were found on the floor in front of the passenger seat and part of them were in the back seat.

And Ravnsborg says he didn’t see any of it, telling a 911 dispatcher moments after the crash that he hit something in the roadway. It was the dispatcher who raised the possibility that it was a deer to which Ravnsborg said “I have no idea. I mean, it could be.”

Ravnsborg also initially told investigators that he hadn’t been using his cell phone while driving that night. When confronted with evidence to the contrary, he admitted he had been using the phone, but only prior to the crash. That seemed to be confirmed by the investigation.

There are other inconsistencies and troubling statements and actions by Ravnsborg immediately after the crash and during the investigation. Let’s just say he fell well short of the kind of honesty you’d expect from anyone, but in particular from the state’s top law-enforcement officer.

Let’s note, too, that he stepped out of line by contacting a special agent for the South Dakota Division of Criminal Investigation to find out what information agents for the North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation — called in to investigate instead of the state DCI in order to avoid a conflict of interest — might find on his cell phone. That inappropriate conversation made the special agent uncomfortable enough to immediately document and report it.

A September obligation to the man who died

Let’s set that aside for now.

Let’s talk about Jason Ravnsborg as the state’s top law enforcement officer and as a human being. And get back to this coming Sept. 12.

On that date, Ravnsborg should hold the first of at least five annual and very public events or appearances to discuss the fatal accident and the dangers — the potential tragedies — of distracted driving.

It doesn’t matter how he was distracted. He was.

It doesn’t matter that most of us, maybe all of us, have been distracted at one time or another while driving. It doesn’t matter that most of us, maybe all of us, have allowed our vehicles to drift, sometimes crossing the rumble strips — which are designed to shake us back to attentive driving.

It doesn’t matter that it might have been a terrible, fatal instance of bad luck that caused a drifting Taurus to hit a walking human being.

How many times could a vehicle drift over the rumble strips on South Dakota’s lonesome highways without hitting a human being. The number is beyond calculation.

Of course, this wasn’t a piece of highway out in the middle of what some might call nowhere. Out there, the potential for a collision is much more likely to involve a cow or a horse or, of course, a deer. Especially a deer.

But this was barely out of Highmore, and still in a zone where a person — a living, breathing human being with a life yet to lead — could be on foot along the roadway.

As Joe Boever was when he was killed by Jason Ravnsborg in a moment of distracted driving.

Lonesome roads or not, that’s a lot of cell phone time

Wait, I should say in one of the many moments of distracted driving. Because there were many. The investigation revealed that from the time Ravnsborg left a Lincoln Day dinner in Redfield to drive back to Pierre, he spent 69 percent of his time on his cell phone.

That doesn’t mean he was distracted that whole time. But certainly he was some of the time. And when they involve moving vehicles, distractions can kill.

That’s something that must be remembered.

Of course, it will always be remembered sadly, painfully by members of Boever’s family. And I assume it will be remembered sadly and painfully by Jason Ravnsborg. At least, I hope so.

I have no idea what kind of personal agony he has suffered because of this. Surely it has been substantial. But I have to say, he has hidden it pretty well.

Perhaps, as he conducts his public events on the dangers of distracted driving, he could also speak from the heart about what that fatal accident had done to him and his life. Has it been as devastating to him personally as you’d think it would be?

I would like to see such from-the-heart revelations. Because what I have seen from Ravnsborg so far has been mostly aimed at minimizing criminal penalties, getting beyond a civil suit and surviving an impeachment attempt.

He never took a leave of absence, saying he had work to work. He apparently never considered resigning. And he never said he won’t seek another term as AG. Because of the accident, I would think the odds of winning another term were poor to begin with. And they’ve surely gotten worse since former AG Marty Jackley announced he was running, and received the endorsement of Gov. Kristi Noem.

Is Ravnsborg lining up delegates for the GOP convention this summer, as has been reported? I don’t know. And let’s set that, too, aside, for now.

Let’s stick with the second Monday in September, and what Jason Ravnsborg should do. Retired Judge John Brown wanted to impose a public-service requirement similar to what I’m proposing, and did. But it was later thrown out after Ravnsborg’s attorney objected, saying it wasn’t applicable given the penalties imposed.

So, Jason Ravnsborg doesn’t have to do the right thing next Sept. 12, not according to the courts. But he should do the right thing anyway, according to human decency.

That would show that he really does care about public safety and, especially, about the life he took.