Former State Senator John J. Benoit died Monday at his home in Riverside County. He had been diagnosed with cancer in November. Benoit, a longtime officer with the California Highway Patrol, had a great sense of humor and a lifetime of stories from his career in law enforcement. In his office at the Capitol, he kept a small book filled with traffic tickets that he had written. One ticket, signed by a well-known young socialite and hotel heiress, confirmed that Benoit pulled her over for speeding at more than 100 mph. “It’s my only celebrity autograph” Benoit would joke.
Benoit was also a private pilot who flew regularly between his home and Sacramento. He made his first flight to Sacramento as a legislator in December 2002 to be sworn into office. During the flight, Benoit realized that his route would take him close to airspace that had been closed for the landing of the Space Shuttle Endeavour (finishing up STS-113). According to his telling of the story, he decided to circle just outside the restricted area in the hopes of seeing the landing shuttle. The shuttle came in much faster and at a steeper angle than he had expected and Benoit ended up being much closer to the flightpath than he had any desire to be.
Benoit resigned from the Senate in 2009 after being appointed to the Riverside County Board of Supervisors, ending a stay in Sacramento that was far too short. He will be missed by many friends.