In court documents filed Friday, the state’s top lawman claimed victim Joe Boever was depressed and suicidal and may have thrown himself in front of his car as he drove home from a Republican function on Sept. 12.
Ravnsborg’s lawyer, Timothy J. Rensch, is seeking a court order that would force health-care providers to release Boever’s psychiatric or psychological records “for exculpatory information concerning his suicidal ideation.”
The filing quotes Boever’s cousin Barnabas Nemec as saying Boever “was an admitted alcoholic with a brooding depressive streak unparalleled by anyone else I have ever known.”
Nemec said that in December 2019, Boever told him if he did kill himself, he would do so by being struck by a vehicle.
“I believe with a very high degree of confidence Joe committed suicide by throwing himself into the path of a speeding car,” Nemec is quoted as saying.
Nemec’s brothers Nick and Victor dispute that. They told The Daily Beast that while Boever had suffered low periods before, he did not seem depressed at the time of his death.
Victor Nemec gave Boever a ride after Boever’s pickup drove off Highway 14 a few hours before the fatal crash, and said he showed no sign of drinking. Victor said he doesn't know why Boever, who worked for him and had become a close friend, drove off the road and struck a large round hay bale. He may have been reaching for cigarette papers, Victor has said.
Victor said he looked around Boever’s home that night after dropping him off, and again on the following day, and found no alcohol present.
Nick Nemec, meanwhile, said he wonders how Barnabas Nemec would know so much about Boever’s mental state.
“Barnabas lives in suburban Detroit, Michigan,” Nick said. “I don’t know how he would have been able to observe anything to make any judgment call.”
He said he called Barnabas after Ravnsborg’s filing and he confirmed making those comments in an email to Hyde County State’s Attorney Emily Sovell, who is prosecuting the case.
At the time of his death, Boever was going through a rough patch, having separated from his wife. According to the new court filing, he had sought assistance for mental issues, and was using Lorazepam, an anti-anxiety medicine. A bottle was found in his pickup, with just 12 pills in it. It had been filled with an order of 90 pills just a day earlier.
Boever’s autopsy revealed there was “much more Lorazepam (190 ng/ml) in his system than a therapeutic dose.” This could have caused suicidal urges, the document states.
Ravsnborg is seeking medical records from a host of medical facilities, including the South Dakota Human Services Center in Yankton, where Boever had been committed prior to his death, according to the court document.
Ravnsborg has been charged with three misdemeanors and faces a maximum of 30 days in jail and a $500 fine for each if convicted at a trial that is scheduled to start Aug. 26.
According to authorities, he was using his cell phone seconds before the crash and struck Boever as the 55-year-old Highmore man walked along the shoulder of the road. Investigators who interviewed Ravnsborg noted that Boever’s face came through the windshield and his glasses were found inside the car.
In his filing, Ravsnborg suggests a different crash scenario.
“The evidence on the roadway and shoulder as examined by law enforcement the day after the death of Mr. Boever was different than it was the night before as there was wind, continued vehicle travel, and movement of the Ravnsborg vehicle by law enforcement in the interim.
“Nonetheless a bolt remained on the roadway, while paint chips were blown to the grass on the edge of the shoulder,” it states. “This is consistent with impact between the Ravnsborg vehicle and Mr. Boever on the roadway rather than the shoulder.”
Nick Nemec, a former state legislator who has personally investigated the case and served as a family spokesman, is convinced Boever was not suicidal.
“Joe was on the shoulder of the road,” he said. “So, that I would think would indicate he wasn’t out trying to jump in front of the car.”
Ravnsborg defied a call from Gov. Kristi Noem, a fellow Republican, that he resign. Impeachment hearings—the first in state history—were launched this spring, but then stopped until the criminal trial can be completed.