James Chávez loved to fly. And he died three years ago doing what he loved.
Chávez, a pilot for the Tulare County Sheriff’s office, lost his life in February 2016 after the Sheriff’s light sport aircraft, Sheriff One, crashed on a hillside near Lake Success.
His wife, Melissa “Missy” Chávez and their two children, Jayleen and Josiah waited on Feb. 10 at Lake Success surrounded by family and friends for the special ceremony to start.
The lives of Chávez and Deputy Scott Ballantyne, who was with Chávez at the time of the crash, were honored, three years to the day of the accident with the unveiling of a Memorial Highway in their names.
“The Deputy Scott Ballantyne and Pilot James Chávez Memorial Highway is one that I wish never existed,” said Sheriff Mike Boudreaux during the ceremony. “Three years after that tragic day, we all still mourn the loss of two very dedicated and talented men.”
According to the Sheriff’s office, on Feb. 10, 2016, Sheriff One had just cleared the scene overhead after assisting with the arrest of an armed suspect, one of the many assignments - including locating a lost 3-year-old child, an Alzheimer’s patient, and spot fires and even interrupt burglaries in progress - that Ballantyne and Chávez had helped with many times before.
As Chávez flew Sheriff One, Deputy Ballantyne used high-tech equipment to monitor suspects and help guide deputies on the ground, Sheriff Boudreaux said, adding that both men provided good safety for Deputies on the ground in the pursuit and apprehension of criminals.
Boudreaux said the memorial highway “is a reminder of the dangerous job the men and women of the Tulare County Sheriff’s Office do day in and day out.”
“Although this Highway dedication doesn’t bring our heroes back, it is a way for us to honor them and the ultimate sacrifice they made,” he said.
The unveiling ceremony took place at Lake Success and included a moment of silence observed at 4:15 p.m. at the time of the crash.
The Ballantyne Chávez Memorial Highway occupies the 4-mile portion of California State Highway Route 190 between its intersection with Pleasant Oak Drive and just south of HQ Drive, between postmile 22.53 and postmile 26.53.
The two brand new signs near Lake Success are located above and below the hillside where the crash took place.
The special ceremony incluyed a flyover of the new Sheriff’s Cessna 206 air support aircraft which is name ‘Tribute’ in honor of the fallen, specifically Chávez and Ballantyne. Tribute’s tail numbers, 189JC, combine Deputy Ballantyne’s Badge No. 189 with Pilot Chávez’s initials, JC.
The memorial project started in September of 2017, when Sergeant Javier Martínez, who serves as president of the Tulare County Deputy Sheriff’s Association, began the process of getting a memorial highway named in honor of Ballantyne and Chávez.
Martínez worked with Assemblyman Devon Mathis to get it passed through the state and with KRC SAFETY Co., Inc. which donated the cost for the project, estimated at $30,000, including the signs, installation and permits.