Army Reserve leaders have halted a promotion to full colonel for South Dakota’s attorney general as they await the outcome of charges alleging that he struck and killed a man with his car while distracted at the wheel.
Jason Ravnsborg, a reserve transportation officer, has faced bipartisan calls for his resignation after the Sept. 12 nighttime car accident that struck and killed 55-year-old Joseph Boever, whom Ravnsborg found dead in a ditch the next day.
Ravnsborg, 44, announced on Facebook last month that he was being promoted and changed his profile picture to his expected rank’s insignia. The announcement raised eyebrows because Ravnsborg is still facing three misdemeanor charges related to the controversial accident.
“Army Reserve leadership is aware of the tragic incident allegedly involving LTC Jason Ravnsborg and is following applicable Army regulations and policies,” Lt. Col. Simon B. Flake, an Army Reserve spokesman, said in an emailed statement.
“Soldiers pending investigation by civilian law enforcement authorities and/or civilian criminal proceedings may still be eligible for selection for promotion, but the Army Reserve retains discretion regarding actual promotion,” Flake added. “In this case, relevant Army Reserve leaders will monitor the ongoing civilian proceedings and make further decisions at the appropriate time.”
South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem called for Ravnsborg’s resignation in February after charges were announced against him. State officials released police interviews and documents pertaining to the investigation, but some were later removed due to a judge’s order.
Ravnsborg’s office said in a statement that the crash occurred after he attended a fundraising event Sept. 12. He said he had not been drinking and began driving home at about 9 p.m.
After passing through the town of Highmore, he collided with something that he “believed to be a large animal,” Ravnsborg said. After surveying the damage to the vehicle, he said he could find no clue as to what he hit and only saw the pieces of his vehicle, which was later photographed by investigators.
Ravnsborg called 911 and reported the crash that night, according to a recording that was released. A county sheriff came to the scene and filled out the necessary paperwork. The next morning, Ravnsborg and his chief of staff drove back to the scene.
“As I walked along the shoulder of the road, I discovered the body of Mr. Boever in the grass just off the roadway,” Ravnsborg said.
Boever was clearly dead and the two men drove to the sheriff’s home to report the body, Ravnsborg added. Since then, Boever’s relatives have cast doubt on Ravnsborg’s narrative.
During a Sept. 30 interview, detectives accused Ravnsborg of using his phone while driving and raised evidence that indicated Ravnsborg was on the shoulder of the road when he struck Boever.
Detectives also pointed out that Boever’s reading glasses were found inside Ravnsborg’s car. Detectives questioned why Ravnsborg didn’t see those glasses resting on the passenger-side floorboard when he searched for his vehicle’s records in the glovebox.
“We know his face came through your windshield,” said an officer with the North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation. “We know those are his glasses. They were on his head, because they were seen on his head [by a witness]. They ended up in your car.”
Ravnsborg denied seeing the glasses inside his car or a flashlight that Boever was carrying at the time of his death. The flashlight was still on when police found it, said the detectives, who described it as “like a beacon” in the “pitch black” night.
“I did not see a flashlight,” Ravnsborg responded. “I did not know it was a man until the next day.”
Ravnsborg has pleaded not guilty and his next court date is scheduled for May 12.
Kyle Rempfer is an editor and reporter who has covered combat operations, criminal cases, foreign military assistance and training accidents. Before entering journalism, Kyle served in U.S. Air Force Special Tactics and deployed in 2014 to Paktika Province, Afghanistan, and Baghdad, Iraq. Follow on Twitter @Kyle_Rempfer