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Wives of two state troopers killed in helicopter crash amid ‘Unite the Right’ rally file wrongful death suits


The widows of two Virginia troopers, Trooper-Pilot Berke M.M. Bates (left) and Lt. H. Jay Cullen, killed in a helicopter crash during a deadly white nationalist rally in Charlottesville are suing the state and others over their husbands’ deaths. (Virginia State Police)

The widows of two Virginia state troopers killed in a helicopter crash the same day thousands of white nationalists and neo-Nazis flooded Charlottesville are seeking $50 million each in separate wrongful death lawsuits.

Amanda Bates and Karen Cullen on Monday filed suits against the state of Virginia, the Secretariat of Public Safety, state police and the Department of Homeland Security, according to the Daily Progress.

Their husbands, H. Jay Cullen and Berke M. M. Bates were overseeing the deadly “Unite the Right” rally before their helicopter spun out of control on Aug. 12, 2017. Scores of white supremacists overwhelmed the city of Charlottesville earlier in the day to protest local officials’ decision to remove a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee from a public park.

Federal investigators have not officially concluded what caused the crash, but a preliminary report suggests its likely the main rotor system or rotor tail malfunctioned.

Later the same afternoon, the officers were on their way to supervise then-Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s motorcade when the helicopter plunged downward.

“As they hovered in position to ensure the safety of the Governor of Virginia’s motorcade, the helicopter was seen to pitch up and down suddenly, and as they attempted to regain control, the helicopter crashed into the ground and burst into flames,” the complaint reads.

“Both [Bates] and [Cullen] perished in the conflagration that enveloped the helicopter primarily due to the lack of proper maintenance and repair of the helicopter by agents and/or employees of the Virginia State Police, PSHS and/or Commonwealth of Virginia, and their failure to comply with all necessary or appropriate service bulletins or airworthiness directives such as the one described above.”

The suit alleges the chopper, a Bell 407 manufactured by Bell Helicopter Textron, had a history of malfunctions and repairs and that it was “a maintenance nightmare.” Some issues outlined in the documents include fuel control malfunctions that caused it to enter into a state insufficient to start the engine to power the helicopter, problems with the tail rotor drive shaft and flight control malfunctions, according to the Daily Progress.

Before the fatal crash, law enforcement officers had been using the helicopter to follow James Alex Fields Jr. after he drove his car into a crowd of demonstrators protesting the racist undertones of the Charlottesville rally.

Heather Heyer, a 32-year-old paralegal, was killed in the crash and dozens more were injured.

The violent skirmishes between the white supremacists and counter-protesters in the end prompted authorities to declare an unlawful assembly and ordered the groups to disband before the “Unite the Right” rally could even begin.

Fields, an avowed white supremacist who kept a photo of Adolf Hitler in his bedside table, was sentenced in July to life plus 49 years behind bars after pleading guilty to 29 federal hate crime charges.

Footage from the helicopter was recently used in Field’s murder trial.

Troopers Bates and Cullen’s “fear of impending death is unspeakable as every pilot knows that loss of control and power in a helicopter at a low altitude in a hover is a doomsday sentence such that no matter what step was or could be taken to save themselves, it was an exercise in futility, and that death was certain by hideous mutilation,” the complaint reads.