SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Sgt. Gregg Weitzman, the second helicopter pilot for the department, will retire soon after the new year after nearly 35 years of service.
Weitzman began his career with the Sheriff's Office as a reserve deputy while attending UC Santa Barbara. At the time, the only option the department had, if it needed the help of a helicopter, was to call either the Ventura County Sheriff's Office or Vandenberg Air Force Base.
So how did a young deputy become such an integral part of forming what is now the Santa Barbara County Sheriff/Fire Air Support Unit?
Weitzman was sworn in as a Sheriff's deputy in 1983 and almost immediately began taking flying lessons propelled by his vision that the department needed to have an air unit for Santa Barbara County. However, ten years would pass before newly-elected Sheriff Jim Thomas assigned Weitzman to Special Operations full time so that he could work on turning his vision of a helicopter unit a reality.
Weitzman was tasked with figuring out a way to fund this proposed air support unit. Through the Department of Defense's military surplus 1033 program (then known as the 1208 program), the Sheriff's Department was able to acquire four aircraft. Two of those aircraft, however, needed to be fixed up in order to fly. Funding from asset forfeitures and the Sheriff's Council were used to pay for work the aircraft needed to get them in proper operating order.
Weitzman was assigned as the second helicopter pilot for the newly created Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Air Support Unit in 1996, following the now-retired Deputy Bryan Swopes. In 2003, Weitzman took a break from Air Support to work on other assignments but returned to the pilot's seat in 2009, and stayed on as pilot when the Air Support Unit merged with the Santa Barbara County Fire Department in 2012 to form the Sheriff/Fire Air Support Unit.
“I was able to put together a unit that we could be proud of and also at the same time was able to do something that I loved,” said Weitzman.
During his career, Weitzman participated in over 300 rescues in Santa Barbara's backcountry, located a car full of inmates that had escaped from jail, and has helped raise money to help rebuilt rescue aircraft for Santa Barbara County and related equipment costs through his non-profit organization Project: Rescue Flight.
Among his many accolades and accomplishments, Weitzman served in the Sheriff's Dive Team, Transportation Unit, general patrol, and was part of the Special Enforcement Team that served to protect President Ronald Reagan at his ranch.
“We are sorry to see such a knowledgeable and experienced member of the Sheriff’s Office retire, but appreciate Gregg’s long-standing efforts to provide public safety air support to the people of Santa Barbara County," said Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown. "I wish him well in all future endeavors.”
Editor's Note: This story erroneously identified Sgt. Weitzman as the first pilot of the Sheriff's Air Support Unit and has now been updated to reflect new information presented by now-retired Deputy Bryan Swopes, the first pilot of the department's Air Support Unit. This new information does not take away from Sgt. Weitzman's great accomplishments and contributions to the Sheriff's Department -- we just wanted to correct the record.