Two Virginia State Police officers died in a helicopter crash in Charlottesville, VA, on Saturday evening. According to the State Police's Facebook page, they were assisting public safety resources on the ground during the violent white nationalist protest taking place in the city.
Lt. H. Jay Cullen was the pilot and trooper-pilot Berke M.M. Bates was the only other person on the Bell 407 helicopter when it crashed in a wooded area near a residence at 5 p.m., state police told the Richmond Times-Dispatch. The incident did not injure anyone on the ground.
"Our state police and law enforcement family at large are mourning this tragic outcome to an already challenging day,” Col. W. Steven Flaherty, VSP superintendent, said in a statement posted to the department's Facebook page. “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. Their deaths are a tremendous loss to our agency and the commonwealth.”
According to the statement, the VSP, the Federal Aviation Administration, and the National Transportation Safety Board are all involved in investigating the crash. They do not suspect foul play at this time.
Today would have been Bates' 41st birthday and is survived by a wife and two children. He had just joined the Aviation Unit in July, after being a member of the force since 2004. Cullen, 48, had been a member of the VSP Aviation Unit since 1999 and the VSP since 1990 and is survived by a wife and two sons.
"We are deeply saddened by the loss of Jay and Berke, both of whom were our close friends and trusted members of our team," Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe and First Lady Dorothy McAuliffe said in a statement. “This is a devastating loss for their families, the Virginia State Police, and the entire commonwealth. Our hearts go out to their wives and children, and we stand by to support them during this difficult time. These heroes were a part of our family and we are simply heartbroken.”
The loss of the two officers raised the toll of Friday and Saturday's protests to three. A car that drove into counterprotesters in downtown Charlottesville injured 19 people and killed 32-year-old Heather Heyer. Earlier in the day, McAuliffe declared a state of emergency.