Two Virginia state troopers were killed in a tragic helicopter crash seven miles from the “Unite The Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. Before the fatal crash, the troopers were helping law enforcement officers monitor the white nationalist rally in the area, according to Fox News.
The crash occurred near a residence on Old Farm Road by Birdwood Golf Course on Saturday. No one on the ground was injured.
One of the troopers was a veteran law enforcement officer with more than two decades as a Virginia state trooper. The other was a pilot who had just transferred to the state police aviation last month and was one day away from celebrating his 41st birthday.
Lieutenant H. Jay Cullen, 48, and Trooper-Pilot Berke M.M. Bates were aboard the Bell 407 helicopter when it crashed seven miles southwest of downtown Charlottesville at 4:50 p.m. Both men died at the scene.
Helicopter crash #Charlottesville pic.twitter.com/e9rER6yaMT
— Simon Rader (@Simon_Rader) August 12, 2017
Colonel W. Steven Flaherty, State Police Superintendent, said the police department are both mourning the loss of the two men in addition to processing the tumultuous day.
Their helicopter was “assisting public safety resources with the ongoing situation in Charlottesville,” according to a police statement.
Officials are still investigating the cause of the crash, no foul play has been suspected.
Helicopter just crashed in #Charlottesville pic.twitter.com/9exI5vXB2B
— byroncocke (@byroncocke) August 12, 2017
Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe said he and his wife considered both men their close friends and added that they were “deeply saddened” by the deaths.
In a tweet, President Donald Trump offered condolences to the families of the state troopers.
Deepest condolences to the families & fellow officers of the VA State Police who died today. You’re all among the best this nation produces.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 12, 2017
The horrific helicopter crash occurred a few hours after a speeding Dodge Challenger accelerated and slammed into two other cars that hit dozens of counter-protesters. The shocking incident (see graphic video below) happened after McAuliffe declared a state of emergency.
A 32-year-old woman identified as Heather Heyer was killed and 19 others have been reported to be injured.
Police said James Alex Fields Jr., 20, of Ohio, was the person arrested and is charged with one count of second-degree murder, three counts of malicious wounding, and one count of hit and run, according to NBC News.
Video of car hitting anti-racist protestors. Let there be no confusion: this was deliberate terrorism. My prayers with victims. Stay home. pic.twitter.com/MUOZs71Pf4
— Brennan Gilmore (@brennanmgilmore) August 12, 2017
The rally was a violent scene with passionate protesters wielding combat shields, wooden sticks from broken flags, while in massive scuffles that left people injured and bloodied. The rally was planned for noon, but police issued an order to disperse 20 minutes before it started.
There have also been several reports of urine being tossed at reporters and the air is said to be filled with pepper spray, mace, and tear gas.
On Friday, at the stroke of midnight, hundreds of “Unite The Right” participants descended on Charlottesville, Virginia, in what is said to be their largest demonstration in decades. Last night, they held an impromptu rally at the University of Virginia, which led to violent clashes with counter-protesters.
Incredible moment for white people who’ve had it up to here & aren’t going to take it anymore. Tomorrow we #UnitetheRight #Charlottesville pic.twitter.com/D9cBipniSp
— Jason Kessler (@TheMadDimension) August 12, 2017
Police estimated 2,000 to 6,000 people would attend the gathering of nationalists, including neo-Nazis, alt-right activists, and pro-Confederacy heritage groups. In addition to this, thousands of counter-protesters were also anticipated to attend.
During the controversial rally, the National Guard was also deployed.
In a statement published late Saturday night, McAuliffe and his wife, Dorothy McAuliffe, said Cullen and Bates’ deaths were a truly “devastating loss.”
Cullen is survived by his wife and two sons, while Bates is survived by his wife, a son, and a daughter, Virginia State Police confirmed.
[Featured Image by Virginia State Police/Facebook]