Lewis Griswold

Tulare County sheriff hires first female pilot after deadly crash

Michelle Simoes stands with Tulare County Sheriff Mike Boudreaux following her swearing in as the new pilot at the air support unit.
Michelle Simoes stands with Tulare County Sheriff Mike Boudreaux following her swearing in as the new pilot at the air support unit. Tulare County Sheriff’s Department

Tulare County Sheriff Mike Boudreaux has hired a new pilot, allowing the air support unit to fly again after a crash claimed the life of a pilot and deputy in February.

Michelle Simoes of Tipton will be the first female pilot in the air unit who is not a volunteer.

Boudreaux said hiring a pilot revives the aviation program after the deaths of pilot James Chavez and tactical flight Officer Scott Ballantyne, whose Sheriff One aircraft crashed Feb. 10 near Springville.

“It’s a big day for us to heal and yet to remember those we lost,” Boudreaux said last week. “Getting the plane back in the air is good for us.”

Simoes will be at the controls of a new two-seater light sport aircraft arriving next month that is designed for law enforcement air surveillance.

The airplane was on order before the crash and Simoes was in the process of being hired to be the pilot.

“James was a fantastic pilot,” Simoes said. “I’m honored to fill those shoes.” They had been pilots together – Simoes as a volunteer – at the Kings County Sheriff’s air support unit.

Aviation Sgt. Dave Williams said Simoes brings more than flying ability to the job.

“We are fortunate to have someone that’s local, that’s familiar with farming, that’s familiar with flying,” he said.

Simoes, 48, grew up in Visalia and married a dairy farmer. She helped run the family business and was a homemaker.

When their son was in fourth grade, her younger sister won a free introductory flying lesson, prompting Simoes to try flying herself.

It grew from a hobby to a career.

“I threw myself into my new passion,” she said. “I wanted to get to the top. That’s always been my goal.”

She earned as many certifications as she could: private, commercial, instrument, multi-flight dispatcher and even airplane pilot.

She skipped the airline world but worked contract jobs and applied for the sheriff’s air unit position.

Simoes will be patrolling the skies of Tulare County for lost children and adults, illegal marijuana sites and fleeing suspects.

HANFORD SAVINGS: Hanford Joint Union High School District said property owners will save money because $23,495,000 of general obligation bonds were refinanced at lower interest rates.

The old bonds (to build Sierra Pacific High) ranged between 4 percent and 5 percent. Rates for the new bonds are between 0.40 percent and 3.24 percent, the district said.

The difference will save $3,569,767.

“Interest rates are near all-time lows,” school board president John Webster said. “We could not pass up the opportunity to lower bond payments.”

TRAVER CLINIC: Family HealthCare Network based in Visalia is holding a grand opening for its new clinic in Traver.

A ribbon cutting will take place at 3 p.m. Thursday at 4177 Avenue 368, next to Traver School.

Family HealthCare Network is a nonprofit organization operating 16 federally qualified health centers in Tulare and Kings counties.

Lewis Griswold covers news of the South Valley for The Fresno Bee: 559-441-6104, lgriswold@fresnobee.com, @fb_LewGriswold