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Officials say the deaths of two people in a helicopter crash near Charlottesville, Virginia, have been linked to a violent white nationalist rally earlier in the day. (Aug. 12)
AP

The two Virginia State Troopers who died in a helicopter crash near Charlottesville, Va., during a violent protest near the University of Virginia on Saturday have close ties to East Tennessee.

Lieutenant H. Jay Cullen, 48, of Midlothian, Virginia, was piloting a Bell 407 helicopter over Charlottesville in the wake of a violent protest just before 5 p.m. on Saturday when the helicopter crashed, killing Lt. Cullen and Trooper-Pilot Berke M.M. Bates, 40, of Quinton, Virginia.

Lt. Cullen’s father Henry, who lives in Loudon, Tenn., and represents Loudon County’s 7th District in the Loudon County Commission, explained that Lt. Cullen had felt a passion for flying since his youth and went to college determined to be a pilot.

“Jay had one love in his life,” Henry Cullen said, “he wanted to fly. He graduated from Embry-Riddle (Aeronautical University) in Daytona Beach. When he got out of school and was looking for a job, he went on with the (Virginia) State Police and then transferred to the state aviation unit.”

“He wanted to go to one school only, and that’s where he went,” Henry Cullen added.

Henry Cullen, who moved to East Tennessee in 2003, explained that his son graduated from Germantown High School near Memphis before enrolling at Embry-Riddle and was serving as the commander of the Virginia State Police Aviation Unit when he died. Lt. Cullen had served with the agency for 23 years.

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Lt. Cullen leaves behind a wife and two sons. Henry Cullen said his son had visited him in Loudon County only a week ago to enjoy some time with his family on the lake before returning to work.

“Jay was the greatest son a family could ask for,” Henry Cullen said. “He loved his two boys, and he loved his wife. He was just here a week ago, playing on the lake. He would come down and play on the lake and have fun with his boys. He loved his boys and his wife more than anything.”

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Trooper Bates was a graduate of the University of Tennessee class of 1998, where he was a Southern College Hockey Association all-star goalie on the school’s hockey team. After graduation, Bates worked as a state trooper in Florida until he moved to Virginia and joined the Virginia State Police in 2004.

According to his older brother Craig Bates, Berke Bates served as a motorcycle trooper for a number of years before serving on Virginia Governor Roy McAuliffe’s executive protection team for about three years. Bates’ passion for flying eventually brought him to a spot on the Virginia State Police Aviation Unit, which he joined in late July. Craig Bates recalled his brother’s excitement on the day he learned that he would be joining the unit.

“He had always wanted to fly. That was his big thing,” he said. “He was one of the kids in 1986, when ‘Top Gun’ came out, who loved the F-14, and so, on his own, he had paid for and gotten his fixed-wing license last year, and that was what he had really wanted to do.”

“The call that I had with him when he called to let me know that he got it was the most excited that I had heard him since his twins were born,” he added.

Trooper Bates was accompanying Lt. Cullen as an observer when their helicopter crashed on Saturday. The helicopter crashed in a wooded area, according to the Virginia State Police, and no one on the ground was injured. Bates leaves behind a wife and two children. 

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Craig Bates describe his brother as having a boisterous sense of humor and a passion for his work that was rivaled only by love for his family.

“He just had a great sense of humor, really truly cared about the people that he served, but also his kids, his wife; family was everything to him,” Bates said. “This is what my brother was called to do, and we are just so proud, my parents, my family, myself, my kids, are just so proud of what he accomplished and what he could do.”

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