Kevin MacMillan

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May 7, 2014
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Former Washoe County Sheriff Dennis Balaam, 63, dies

INCLINE VILLAGE, Nev. — A couple decades ago, if you couldn’t find Dennis Balaam at the Incline Village Substation, you likely didn’t have to look much farther than the Championship Golf Course.

“He was always at the driving range ... he always liked to joke that the best way to negotiate was over a round of golf,” Dennis’ son, Darin, said Wednesday.

Dennis Balaam, who was the 23rd sheriff of Washoe County and spent roughly a decade working in Incline Village as commander of the substation in the early 90s, died at home Tuesday evening due to complications from cancer, family members told the Bonanza early Wednesday.

He was 63.

Balaam began his career with the sheriff’s office in 1971 as a reserve deputy. He took over as sheriff in 2000 when he was appointed to replace Richard Kirkland, and was eventually elected to the position in 2002.

He ended a 35-year career with WCSO when he decided not to run for reelection in 2006, opting for retirement and to focus on his family.

Darin Balaam, who currently serves as Washoe County assistant sheriff, said his father was diagnosed with cancer in 2006.

“He was a very personable man, very friendly, and he always could make you laugh,” said Darin, who’s been with the department since 1994. “He would form connections and relationships that way, and it was through those relationships he was able to get things accomplished.”

According to the sheriff’s office, Balaam helped bring the Amber Alert System to Northern Nevada during his tenure. Other accomplishments include helping acquire an armored SWAT vehicle, making improvements to the Civil Protective Custody/Intake area of the Washoe County Detention facility and expanding WCSO’s inmate work programs.

Longtime Incline resident Shirley Dale, an avid supporter of the sheriff’s office in Incline over the years, said Balaam was a “great guy.”

“Everybody liked him — well, almost everybody,” Dale said with a chuckle. “He was a good person and a very funny gentleman. He had a great wit, a great sense of humor. He cared about people, and that’s the difference from a lot of people today.”

Washoe County Sheriff Mike Haley — who replaced Balaam after being elected in 2007 — informed the department of Balaam’s death Wednesday morning.

“There is much I can say about the many contributions (Balaam) made to benefit our office as well as the community as a whole during his tenure as sheriff,” Haley said in a statement. “We will all miss his leadership, wisdom, and warm and ready smile. Together, the sheriff’s office family will mourn his passing, celebrate his life and honor his legacy.”

Washoe County Commission Chairman David Humke also issued a statement Wednesday mourning Balaam’s death.

“He was a straight-up, honest guy and that’s what made him so great to work with,” Humke said. “He worked his way up through the ranks at the sheriff’s office and brought that perspective with him daily when he was our sheriff.”

Dennis Balaam is immediately survived by his wife, Diane Balaam; his father, Don Balaam; son Darin and his wife, Heather Balaam; brother Bruce and sister-in-law Ellen Balaam; son-in-law Brian and his wife, Becky Barnes; daughter-in-law Jenny and her husband Dean Penrod; and several grandchildren.

Memorial services are pending; information will be released when it becomes available.

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Tahoe Daily Tribune Updated May 8, 2014 01:30PM Published May 12, 2014 09:41AM Copyright 2014 Tahoe Daily Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.