Memorial service for former Douglas sheriff is Saturday
A memorial service is 1 p.m. Saturday for former Douglas County Sheriff Richard ‘Dick’ Canatsey at Walton’s Chapel of the Valley in Carson City. The 66-year-old died Dec. 8 in Carson.
A lifelong resident of Nevada, Canatsey served as sheriff from 1975 until June 14, 1977, when he was recalled after being involved in a fatal traffic accident at Lake Tahoe.
Canatsey, a Republican, was elected in 1974 after winning the seat from Democrat John Meckes by 122 votes. Prior to his election he served as chairman of the Gardnerville Town Board and had lived in Douglas County for 15 years.
A veteran of the 82nd Airborne Division, 77th Special Forces, he was a Nevada Highway Patrol trooper and was the first NHP pilot and was chief pilot of the Nevada Department of Highways. He was a flight instructor, flight engineer and commercial airline pilot. A certified firearms instructor, he also was a pilot for Vietnam troop transport during Airlift International.
He served as chief pilot and aide to governors Paul Laxalt, Mike O’Callaghan and Robert List.
The accident, which cost him his position, occurred early March 13, 1977, in Round Hill after Canatsey crossed the centerline striking another car head-on. It had been snowing and the sheriff told investigators he’d hit a patch of ice and lost control of the car.
One of the two people in the car, Donald Boutiliuer of Fallon, died of injuries from the accident nine days later.
Within days, Douglas County commissioners asked the Nevada Department of Investigation to look into the accident. Then Judge Howard McKibben convened a grand jury to examine the sheriff’s office and Minden resident Charles Bennett started a petition to have Canatsey recalled.
Canatsey lost a June 14 recall election 2,679 to 479 votes. Jerry Maple, who had been promoted to lieutenant two months before, was named sheriff, a position he held for the next 20 years. Maple placed Lt. Ron Pierini in charge of the Zephyr Cove substation.
The accident resulted in charges of felony drunk driving, involuntary manslaughter, and two counts of trying to get deputies to commit perjury.
Nearly 17 months later, in August 1978, Canatsey was exonerated by a Hawthorne jury.
Following the verdict, in an Aug. 24, 1977, front-page interview with The Record-Courier, Canatsey described the pain he suffered as a result of the accusations.
“I think what happened in the very beginning of this thing was those charges were filed,” he said. “It’s a hideous looking thing. There’s just no question about it and press-wise we took a bad dumping in the press – just unnecessarily so because I couldn’t say anything about it.”
The petition was filed within a week of the incident and quickly filled with the signatures necessary for a recall. Because of the charges, Canatsey said he couldn’t defend himself.
“Things rolled pretty fast when that happened,” he said. “Bang, there were charges and that was it. At that time you don’t explain. Then you explain to 12 people on a jury, that’s what’s important. Several people told us that if they convict you of anything on what was presented here there’s something wrong with the whole system.”
Canatsey said the trial showed him who his friends were.
“If anything good came out of this whole thing, it is that I sure know who my friends are, and it didn’t seem to faze them a bit,” he said. “I found that I have the same friends today that I had three years ago. It just hasn’t changed a thing.”
Canatsey said being recalled and tried on the charges was one of the worst things that happened to him, but he knew he was innocent.
“I find the biggest person you’ve got to deal with is the guy in the mirror,” he said. “If you can handle that you’ve got it licked.”