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 on Sunday, was just beginning to realize a lifelong dream of becoming a helicopter pilot.
“I was close to both of those state troopers,” McAuliffe (D) said at a memorial service in Charlottesville on 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 State Police Aviation Unit.
“They’re still coming to terms with it,” Virginia State Police spokeswoman Corinne Geller said of the troopers under Cullen’s 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 investigating the cause of the helicopter crash. The Bell 407 helicopter that Cullen piloted crashed about 5 p.m. Saturday in a wooded area on Old Farm Road in Albemarle County. The crash was a few miles from the explosion of violence that left dead one woman who was a counterprotester to the demonstration by white nationalists, neo-Nazis and Ku Klux Klan members.
The National Transportation Safety Board also is investigating the helicopter incident. Peter Knudson, a spokesman for the NTSB, said a preliminary investigation of the cause of the crash will take one to two weeks.
Knudson said there was no distress call from the helicopter before it crashed. The chopper took off from the Charlottesville airport about 4 p.m., he said, and crashed in a heavily wooded area about seven miles southwest. The helicopter caught fire when it fell, he said, with the bulk landing on the ground and some wreckage in the trees.
Cullen of Midlothian, Va., graduated from the Virginia State Police Academy in May 1994 and joined the Virginia State Police Aviation Unit in 1999. He became commander last February. He is survived by his wife and two sons.
Bates of Quinton, Va., 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,” his father said.
Perry Benshoof retired from the State Police about a year ago; Cullen was his supervisor.
“I knew both of them, I flew with both of them. They were both just awesome guys,” he said. “Some people, they just have that — they love doing what they do, and that’s the way Jay and Berke both were.”
Lynda Howard, who until last year worked as an administrative assistant in the aviation unit, said Cullen was “a wonderful person.”
“He was such a good supervisor, just kind and friendly to everyone,” Howard said. “People didn’t mind going to him with problems and questions. They knew he would help him out.”
Bates was recruited by the Virginia State Police from Florida, his father said, where he distinguished himself as a highway patrol officer 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, N.Y.
Bates’s family was planning a trip to Richmond on 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’s 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.”
Laura Vozzella contributed to this report.