Tulare County Sheriff's pilot honored as loved ones say goodbye

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- Loved ones said goodbye to a Tulare County Sheriff's pilot Saturday who died in the line of duty.

The funeral took place in Hanford before a graveside service in Armona to honor James Chavez who was killed in a plane crash near Porterville on February 10. The motorcade for Chavez stretched for miles, passing dozens of people who stepped out to remember the man killed along with deputy Scott Ballantyne.

The two had just finished helping deputies on the ground arrest a man when their plane crashed.

As Chavez's casket was carried inside his church, family and friends stood to pay their final respects. Becky Coral was one of them. She knew the fallen pilot for two years. "He was just a magnificent man," Coral said. "Nothing was too small for him to do, and he was always passionate about what he did."

That passion was expressed in the service when Tulare County Sheriff Mike Boudreaux recounted a time he saw it in Chavez's eyes. "I remember looking into his eyes thinking does he really love this job?" Boudreaux asked. "There was no doubt in my mind that man loved this job and he loved chasing bad guys."

Boudreaux also shared a conversation he had with Chavez, bringing a moment of laughter during a time of sorrow. "Sheriff-One would routinely fly over my house and I said "James you don't have to fly over my house all of the time," Boudreaux remembered. "He goes, 'Yes, I do. You're the sheriff.' And I told him you're right but he would fly over my house all the time and he would tilt the wings and wave."

Chavez's wife wrote in a tribute letter that was read aloud that is something she's realized even more since her husband has been gone. "I always knew you were an amazing man and now I'm finding out everyone who knew you thinks the same thing," his wife recounted.

A message Boudreaux wants his deputies to remember as they continue the work Chavez loved to do. "We are going to get back in the air and we're going to do the things we do and we're going to fight hard every day because that's what James and Scott would have wanted," Boudreaux said.
Copyright © 2021 KFSN-TV. All Rights Reserved.