The incident occurred as the troopers were assisting with the on-going violent situation involving white nationalists at the “Unite The Right” rally in Charlottesville, according to WTVR.
Susan Rowland, Virginia State Police Public Relations Coordinator, said that the Bell 407 Virginia State Police helicopter “was assisting public safety resources with the ongoing situation in Charlottesville.”
Both troopers had just dropped off Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, when they were asked to “surveil” the violence on the ground, according to PennLive.com. Rowland said that the helicopter crashed about 5 PM into a wooded area near a home on Old Home Road. Police said that Lieutenant Cullen, age 48, of Midlothian, and Trooper-Pilot Bates, age 40, of Quinton, died at the scene.
The crash was the latest in a day of tragedy. After violent skirmishes between white supremacists and counter-protesters, white supremacist terrorist James Fields Jr. drove a vehicle into a crowd of pedestrians earlier Saturday. One person was killed, now identified as Heather Heyer, and 19 others were injured, according to Fox News.
Lieutenant Cullen had texted his father earlier in the day to tell him what was going on.
His father, Henry Cullen, said that his son told him that “it was an absolute mess,” and that his son told him that that he had been “assigned to work the rally and would do his job.” Henry Cullen said, “Jay was the greatest son a person could ever have, a great father to his two sons, a loving husband to his wife Karen and he was doing something that he loved.”
Trooper-Pilot Bates’ father Robert Bates said, “This is the job he always wanted, which was flying. That’s what he wanted to do all his life.”
Robert Bates said that the Virginia State Patrol had recruited his son from Florida, and that he had rescued a girl there who had had been kidnapped. He said that Trooper Bates had once served as a member of Governor McAuliffe’s security detail, and was an avid hockey player.
In a tweet, President Trump said:
Deepest condolences to the families & fellow officers of the VA State Police who died today. You’re all among the best this nation produces.
Virginia State Police Superintendent Colonel W. Steven Flaherty said, “Our state police and law enforcement family at-large are mourning this tragic outcome to an already challenging day. Lieutenant Cullen was a highly-respected professional aviator and Trooper-Pilot Bates was a welcome addition to the Aviation Unit, after a distinguished assignment as a special agent with our Bureau of Criminal Investigation.”
He said that the troopers’ deaths were “a tremendous loss for the agency and the Commonwealth (of Virginia).”
Lieutenant Cullen graduated from the Virginia State Police Academy in May, 1994, as a member of the 90th Basic Session. In 1999, he joined the Virginia State Police Aviation Unit. Lieutenant Cullen is survived by his wife and two sons.
Trooper-PIlot Bates’ birthday is Sunday, August 13, and he would have been 41-years-old. In August, 2004, he graduated from the Virginia State Police Academy as a member of the 107th Basic Section. He had transferred to the Aviation Unit in July as a Trooper-Pilot. Trooper-PIlot Bates is survived by his wife Amanda, and a son, and a daughter, who are 11-year-old twins.
No one else was injured, and the investigation is continuing.
Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of Virginia State Police Lieutenant H. Jay Cullen and Trooper-Pilot Berke M. M. Bates, both blood and blue. Rest easy, heroes. We’ll hold the watch from here.