VISALIA, Calif. (KFSN) --More than a month after a Tulare County Sheriff's Office plane crashed, killing a pilot and deputy on board, the department is determined to get back in the air as soon as possible. The sheriff has said that's what pilot James Chavez and Deputy Scott Ballantyne would have wanted.
Aviation Unit head Dave Williams agrees, and believes it will be good for department morale. Williams has been with the Tulare County Sheriff's Office for decades, holding a variety of positions. But his post-retirement role as head of the department's aviation unit has been most enjoyable. "I gotta say that being able to be up in the air and provide that type of assist, is probably one of the best jobs in law enforcement," Williams said.
There's inherent risk in flying, and the entire law enforcement community was reminded of it when Sheriff One crashed into a hillside after responding to a call near Springville. Deputy Scott Ballantyne and pilot James Chavez died, and have since been remembered as good men who kept the Tulare County community safe. "They both loved what they were doing, they absolutely thought that being in the aviation unit was the greatest assignment they could ever have," Williams said.
Sheriff One responded to any and all public safety calls, including deadly accident scenes, dangerous drag races and even fires in the hills. Chavez and Ballantyne communicated with and protected deputies on the ground. They busted large scale marijuana grows and helped take down gang members. It's all why Williams and the Sheriff believe it's so important to get the aviation program up and running again-even as they await results on the cause of the crash. "If there's any area where we can improve safety, we will do it," Williams said.
Williams says they're working on a claim with the insurance company to replace Sheriff One. But another plane, identical to the one used in Kings County, should arrive within a month. A camera system will need to be installed, and another crew will need to be trained.
The sheriff's office was recently given the go-ahead to purchase their first drone. That will also be part of the aviation unit, and should also be up and running within a couple of months.