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Congressman Is Charged in Motorcyclist's Death

William J. Janklow of South Dakota could face prison time if convicted of manslaughter.

August 30, 2003|Eric Slater | Times Staff Writer

South Dakota's only U.S. representative, Republican William J. Janklow, was charged Friday with second-degree manslaughter in the death of a motorcyclist struck when Janklow allegedly sped through a stop sign.

One of the state's most influential politicians, the former four-term governor could face up to 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine if convicted.

Janklow, 63, has a long history of speeding violations and car accidents.

According to police reports, he ran the stop sign on a rural road north of Sioux Falls on Aug. 16, colliding with Randolph E. Scott, 55, a farmer from nearby Hardwick, Minn.

Janklow suffered a broken hand and head injury in the accident and has been recuperating at his home in Brandon, near Sioux Falls.

In addition to the felony manslaughter charge, Moody County State's Atty. Bill Ellingson also charged Janklow with three misdemeanors in the accident -- going 71 mph in a 55-mph zone, failing to stop at a stop sign, and reckless driving. Those charges carry a total of up to 14 months in prison.

Ellingson declined to speak Friday but issued a statement saying manslaughter charges were warranted in auto accidents in which there was "a conscious and unjustifiable disregard of a substantial risk."

Scott, who was traveling with another motorcyclist who was a short distance ahead, died after his Harley-Davidson slammed into the rear driver's-side door of the Cadillac that Janklow was driving, police said. On Friday, Scott's family thanked the state Highway Patrol for its investigation and Ellingson for filing charges.

"Although no judge or jury can bring Randy back to us, we view the criminal charges filed today as both reasonable and appropriate," Scott's mother, Marcella Scott, said in a statement.

Janklow is expected to make an initial court appearance Tuesday.

His son, Russell Janklow, told Associated Press on Friday that the family had discussed the charges but that his father did not raise the possibility of resigning. Russell Janklow declined to talk at length about the charges, saying: "We believe we have a system in place that will deal with this -- the judicial system -- and we believe in it."

If Janklow does resign, state law calls for a special election to be held within three months to replace him.

If he does not resign but is convicted of a felony, the House of Representatives Ethics Committee would investigate but he would not automatically lose his seat. A representative convicted of a crime that carries a prison term of two years or more cannot vote in the chamber, according to congressional rules, until his or her record is cleared, or until reelected.

Janklow had been planning to run for reelection in fall 2004. Among potential rivals in that race or in a special election is Democrat Stephanie Herseth, who ran a strong race against Janklow for the seat he won last fall.

A South Dakota icon, Janklow has loomed over politics in the state for three decades. In seven statewide elections, he lost just once, in the 1995 primary for a U.S. Senate seat.

The bespectacled, often gruff Janklow began his political career in 1974, when he was elected state attorney general. He served four terms as governor, from 1978 through 1986 and 1994 through 2002, going into private legal practice between his stints in the Statehouse.

For much of his adult life, the former Marine has had a habit of driving too fast, which he has acknowledged occasionally in speeches. He had several minor accidents on his record before the fatal crash. He racked up a dozen speeding tickets between 1990 and 1995, when he did not hold political office, and was involved in three accidents in 1993 alone.

When term limits forced him from office in 2002, Janklow successfully ran for Congress, aided in his campaign by President Bush. The two are friends and share similar conservative ideologies on such issues as state's rights and the belief that more logging should be allowed in national forests.

Janklow's unbending and sometimes abrasive style seemed to divide voters into two camps: staunch supporters and staunch detractors, with few in the middle. The gravity of his involvement in a fatal accident, however, has deeply affected South Dakotans of all camps.

"It is a somber day in South Dakota," Bob Burns, a longtime friend of Janklow's and head of the political science department at South Dakota State University in Brookings, said Friday. "A lot of people have been very saddened by this tragedy."

Burns said he had not visited the congressman since the accident but that mutual friends described Janklow as rather seriously injured and distraught over Scott's death.

"Congressman Janklow is expert both in law and politics, and I'm sure he will reason wisely what his best course of action should be," Burns said. "But common sense says there will be very adverse implications as a result of such serious charges. His future is very uncertain."

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