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Janklow charged with manslaughter in fatal accident
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Bill Janklow's car after the accident. (MPR Photo/Cara Hetland)
South Dakota officials charged Congressman Bill Janklow Friday with a felony in the death of a motorcyclist nearly two weeks ago. The Moody County prosecutor says there is probable cause for a second-degree manslaughter charge. If convicted Janklow faces a maximum of 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

Flandreau, S.D. — On Saturday, Aug. 16, Bill Janklow was on his way to his Brandon home after an event in Aberdeen. Reports indicate Janklow was driving more than 70 mph when his Cadillac went through a stop sign at a rural intersection. A motorcycle driven by 55-year old Randy Scott of Hardwick, Minnesota, hit the side of the car. Scott died at the scene.

In a written statement, Moody County State's Attorney William Ellingson listed three misdemeanor charges filed against Janklow. They include failure to stop speeding and reckless driving.

Ellingson said those charges are easy to justify given law enforcement reports. He said it was just as easy to dismiss vehicular homicide as a possible charge, because there was no indication the drivers were under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

Ellingson says it was less easy to decide on the felony charge. He says he made the decision to charge Janklow with second-degree manslaughter after what he called a considerable follow-up investigation, review of the evidence and study of the law.

There are two South Dakota laws defining reckless conduct. One applies to reckless driving, and the other defines recklessness as a felony in manslaughter cases. The South Dakota Supreme Court has ruled a charge of manslaughter is not appropriate when the only evidence to support an allegation of reckless conduct was a traffic violation.

Is he going to stand trial and be convicted of it? Will he plead to it or a lesser charge? All of these variables will have an impact on how one looks into the crystal ball and sees his political future.
- Political scientist Bill Richardson

Ellingson says in Janklow's case, there are sufficient facts to support the charge of second-degree manslaughter.

In a sworn statement included in court documents, Highway Patrol Trooper Josh Olson says Janklow told him he saw the stop sign just before the collision, but couldn't slow down in time.

Randy Scott's mother released a statement thanking the Highway Patrol for its investigation, and Ellingson for his consideration of charges. The Scott family called the criminal charges both reasonable and appropriate.

In another statement, Congressman Janklow's son says his father will talk about the charges against him only in court. Russ Janklow says it's inappropriate to talk about the case. He says his father is still sleeping and taking pain medication because of a head injury. Bill Janklow also broke his right hand in the accident.

Political scientist Bill Richardson says it's still premature to talk about Janklow's political future. Richardson, who chairs the University of South Dakota political science department, says it'll all depend on what happens with the case.

"Is he going to stand trial and be convicted of it? Will he plead to it or a lesser charge? All of these variables will have an impact on how one looks into the crystal ball and sees his political future," says Richardson.

Rules of the U.S. House of Representatives Ethics Committee mandate an investigation of Janklow because of the felony charge. The rules also say House members who plead guilty, or are convicted of a crime that carries more than two years in prison, can't vote in the chamber until his or her record is cleared, or until re-elected. There is no state or federal provision to recall a sitting congressman.

Richardson says the decision of whether to stay in office or resign is totally up to Bill Janklow.

"He's certainly going to be occupied dealing with both the criminal -- and I'm sure down the road -- some civil charges resulting from the accident," says Richardson. "And the extent to which he will be an effective legislator for us while dealing with those -- it's not for us to say, only for us to observe what is going on, and it's still got some weeks for this to play out."

If Janklow were to resign, Republican Gov. Mike Rounds would call a special election within three months to fill the seat. Russ Janklow says there has been no talk about his father resigning.

Janklow, a Republican, served four terms as governor before being elected as the state's sole member of the House in 2002.

Bill Janklow's first court appearance is set for Tuesday in Flandreau.

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