Virginia state troopers killed in helicopter crash mourned by colleagues

These undated photo provided by the Virginia State Police show Trooper-Pilot Berke M.M. Bates, left, of Quinton, Va., and Lt. H. Jay Cullen, of Midlothian, Va. The two were killed Saturday, Aug. 12, 2017, when the helicopter they were piloting crashed while assisting public safety resources during clashes at a nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va.


By RACHEL WEINER | The Washington Post | Published: August 13, 2017

Two Virginia State troopers killed doing surveillance work during Saturday's white nationalist rally in Charlottesville were well-known to Gov. Terry McAuliffe.

H. Jay Cullen, 48, was a veteran pilot who spent several years shepherding the governor around Virginia. Berke Bates, who would have turned 41 Sunday, was just beginning to realize a lifelong dream of becoming a helicopter pilot.

"I was close to both of those state troopers," McAuliffe said at a memorial service in Charlottesville Sunday morning. "Jay Cullen had been flying me around for three-and-a-half years. Berke was part of my executive protection unit. He was part of my family. The man lived with me 24-7."

Cullen was the commander of the aviation unit.

"They're still coming to terms with it," Virginia State Police spokeswoman Corinne Geller said of the troopers under his supervision. "It's very raw."

While mourning their lost colleagues, troopers spent the night dealing with the aftermath of Saturday's violent clashes in Charlottesville and with investigating the cause of the helicopter crash. The Bell 407 helicopter Cullen piloted crashed at about 5 p.m. Saturday, a few miles from the explosion of violence that left dead one counterprotester against the demonstration by white nationalists, neo-Nazis and Ku Klux Klan members.

The National Transportation Safety Board also is investigating the helicopter crash.

Cullen, of Midlothian, graduated from the Virginia State Police Academy in May 1994 and joined the Virginia State Police Aviation Unit in 1999. He is survived by his wife and two sons.

Bates, of Quinton, had just transferred to the aviation unit in July from the governor's protection detail.

"This is the job he always wanted, which was flying," said Robert Bates, 80, who flew planes for the Navy and had helped his son learn the basics. "That's what he wanted to do all his life."

Cullen was texting with his father earlier in the day as the chaos unfolded.

"He said it was an absolute mess," Henry Cullen recalled. But his son told him that he had been assigned to work the rally and would do his job.

"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," Henry Cullen said.

Bates was recruited by the Virginia State Police from Florida, his father said, where he distinguished himself as a highway patrolman by rescuing a young girl who had been kidnapped.

"He made a lot of arrests," Robert Bates said of his youngest son. "He was a good trooper."

Bates met his wife, Amanda, in Florida; they were married in Richmond and have twin 11-year-olds, a boy and a girl.

He was an avid hockey player at the University of Tennessee and afterward in minor leagues. The trooper's son had just come back from a hockey camp in Lake Placid, New York.

Bates' family was planning a trip to Richmond Sunday for his birthday. Instead, they traveled there for his memorial service.

"Trooper Bates was my younger brother and I am eternally grateful for his service and sacrifice," Bates's brother, Craig Bates, wrote on Twitter. "I miss you, Berke."

McAuliffe said Sunday that he had spent time Saturday night at Bates' home, with his wife and children.

The governor said the deaths of the troopers made him angry, but he urged the congregation at the memorial service to move with him past that emotion.

McAuliffe said Bates had called him the day before his death about sending a care package to the governor's son, a Marine stationed overseas.

"It just breaks our heart," McAuliffe said. "It's senseless."

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