REEDLEY – The principal of Kennedy Elementary School in Dinuba was arrested for driving under the influence shortly after 6 p.m. on Dec. 3 outside of Reedley after his vehicle drifted into oncoming traffic and collided with another vehicle head on, killing two passengers in the other vehicle.
According to the California Highway Patrol (CHP), Blake Benham, 43, who lives in Dinuba, was driving his 2021 Ford F150 southbound on Road 56 on Dec. 3. Anselmo Pasillas, 55, from Reedley, was driving his Nissan northbound. Benham’s vehicle drifted into the northbound lane, where it struck Pasillas’ vehicle head on. The accident occurred just north of Avenue 430.
A resident, who lives in the immediate vicinity of the accident scene but asked not to be identified, told the Times she heard the impact of the collision.
“My dogs started barking,” she said. “When we went outside, both drivers were outside their vehicles.”
The resident said Pasillas did not speak English, so she translated for him.
“He said the other driver drove into his lane. He said he was trying to get help for his family,” said the resident.
According to the CHP report, Pasillas’ vehicle was carrying three other passengers. The passenger in the right front seat and the passenger in the right rear seat died at the scene. Pasillas and the surviving passenger sustained major injuries and were transported to Community Regional Medical Center. Benham suffered a complaint of pain. The report identified the other passengers as residents of Reedley.
First responders did not arrive on the scene immediately, however, according to the unidentified resident. She said this was due to the fact that people on the scene did not provide accurate location information.
“My husband called and gave our address,” she said.
According to the resident, the road is often busy. She described the scene as frustrating because spectators were showing up to gawk at the incident, which snarled traffic.
“Lookie-loos were blocking traffic,” she said. “It was very frustrating.”
After first responders arrived on scene, Benham was transported to the Tulare County Pre-Trial Facility, where he was arrested for vehicular manslaughter and for felony driving under the influence. According to the Tulare County Sheriff’s Office, he was booked at 10:41 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 3. He was released on bond on the morning of Monday, Dec. 4; his bond amount was set at $60,000. His court date is set for 1:30 p.m. on Dec. 5.
Benham is in his third year as principal of Kennedy Elementary. He taught social science at Washington Intermediate School (WIS) from 2005 to 2019. He was also the Learning Director at WIS from 2019 to 2021.
Dinuba Unified School District (DUSD) has placed Benham on administrative leave until further notice.
In a statement, DUSD Assistant Superintendent Marti Kochevar said, “The District administration sends its condolences to those suffering as a result of this tragic incident.”