I expected more from Kristi Noem yesterday. After allowing all the bad press to simmer down over her Attorney General’s killing of a man on the way home from a Republican fundraiser, she had a chance to take the mic, blow some serious smoke, and put the Jason Ravnsborg manslaughter case to bed once and for all, allowing everyone to focus more on Kristi 2024. She could show her Administration’s Trumpist commitment to party solidarity, secure Jason Ravnsborg’s absolute loyalty for bailing him out of prison time, and give the finger to all those Democrats in Joe Boever’s family. She could essentially lay down a new marker for the SDGOP version of Trump-pal-itarianism: Yes, we can kill a man in the middle of the road and not lose any voters.
Instead, Noem fanfared another press conference that answered none of the important questions about Jason Ravnsborg’s legal and moral responsibility for the death of Joe Boever and suggested that our hapless Attorney General still hasn’t danced hard enough to secure his party’s bailout.
One of the most surprising things we learned yesterday is that the Ravnsborg manslaughter investigation is still far from over. Four weeks after the killing, investigators say they may need several more weeks to complete their crash analysis. There aren’t that many moving parts to this crash: one driver, one car, one pedestrian. Back in 2015, Attorney General Marty Jackley had to investigate a far more ghastly and complicated murder-suicide in Platte involving six people, a string of telecommunications, a giant burned-down house, and a brewing financial scandal, and he was able to tie a bow on that investigation in six weeks. DCI and other cops have been out marking the crap out of the road where Ravnsborg killed Boever; how much more evidence is there to gather? Are they just waiting for Ravnsborg to crack and confess? Or are they waiting for us all to get distracted by the Trump/Proud Boys insurrection?
The state did offer some evidence from the investigation. Laughably, it produced the toxicology results from the test Ravnsborg took 15 hours after the deadly crash showing there was no alcohol in Ravnsborg’s bloodstream. Given that the average male adult (and no one has ever accused Jason of being better than average) can metabolize one drink an hour, this toxicology report only establishes that Ravnsborg did not drink more than 16 beers up in Redfield before driving to Boever’s death.
Of course, we don’t have any proof that Ravnsborg was drinking the night he killed Joe Boever, either.
The most important piece of evidence released yesterday is the audio and transcript of Ravnsborg’s 9-1-1 call from the scene of the crash:
Ravnsborg made three important statements in that call (ellipses indicate pauses, not omitted text; dispatcher statements are in parentheses and italics):
1. This… well… Ally, I’m the Attorney General.
Jason doesn’t open this urgent call with his name. He opens with his official title, signaling to Ally the dispatcher, perhaps, that she’d better dispatch help quickly and not ask too many questions.
2. And I am… I don’t know… I hit something. (You hit something?) By Highmore. Highmore. And it was in the middle of the road.
Ravnsborg was not intoxicated. He had his 1.3 prosecutorial wits about him enough to make sure the first specific evidentiary statement he made was the location of his crash, which he claimed was the spot from which he could most likely mount a defense against any charges. The middle of the road is most certainly not where Boever’s cousin Nick Nemec and journalist Bart Pfankuch saw and photographed the first skid marks at the scene.
3. (Do you think you hit a deer or something?) I have no idea.
In his formal public statement issued two days after the crash, Ravnsborg wrote, “…my vehicle struck something that I believed to be a large animal (likely a deer). I didn’t see what I hit and stopped my vehicle immediately to investigate.” In that written statement, Ravnsborg used the past tense, “believed,” indicating his belief was cotemporaneous with the impact. Yet in the moments following the impact, in his communication with dispatch, he said he had “no idea” what he hit. “Large animal” didn’t come out of his mouth. “Deer” came out of the dispatcher’s mouth, leading him to respond “it could be…” but not to express any belief.
Ravnsborg did not initially say he thought he hit a large animal or likely a deer. He said he had no idea what he hit. That line could be more damning than the argument we’re having over whether a driver can really mistake a man for a deer. Saying he had no idea what he hit suggests Ravnsborg’s eyes weren’t on the road at all… which suggests the most important evidence the state didn’t release yesterday was Ravnsborg’s phone records.
Even if Ravnsborg’s eyes weren’t on the road at the moment of impact, the evidence from the scene reported by Nick Nemec suggests Ravnsborg had opportunity to see what he hit immediately afterward. The skid patterns of tire and blood suggest the possibility that Boever’s body smashed into Ravnsborg’s bumper and windshield, then remained on the hood of the car for some moments before sliding down, dragging on the ground, and being thrown to the grassy edge of the road.
The skid marks provide more evidence that Jason had some idea that what he hit was more a who than a what. Ravnsborg worked transportation in the military, meaning he likely had some extra driver safety training. Even us casual drivers know that if you see a deer (or a skunk, or a turtle) in the middle of the road, you don’t romp on the brakes and execute any crazy maneuver. It’s just an animal, not worth putting yourself in the ditch or a flip or a worse wreck for. If you’ve already hit the deer, well, damage is done, so don’t make it worse with any sudden moves; just brake and ease off the road. Sure, surprise and adrenaline can make the best driver panic and overreact, but the hard skid Ravnsborg laid that night, along with the evidence on his windshield, suggest he was reacting to hitting someone, not some entirely unknown thing.
Ravnsborg made two assertions in his 9-1-1 call from the scene of his crime that don’t jive with the evidence and his subsequent statements. The state still has not released the key evidence of Ravnsborg’s phone records or his severely damaged red Taurus. About all we achieved yesterday was another chance for Kristi Noem to be on TV and look like she doesn’t know what she’s doing… or at least can’t make up her mind whether Jason Ravnsborg, who killed a man, is worth keeping on the job and in the party.