RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Virginia State Police Lieutenant H. Jay Cullen and Trooper-Pilot Berke M.M. Bates were killed in a 2017 helicopter crash outside Charlottesville while assisting with the “Unite the Right” rally. The widows of both men have since filed lawsuits against the commonwealth of Virginia, state police, the helicopter’s manufacturer and others in Albemarle County and Richmond.
Records online show separate lawsuits from Amanda S. Bates and Karen L. Cullen filed in Albemarle Circuit Court against Rolls-Royce North America, Inc., Rolls-Royce Corp. and Rolls-Royce North America Holdings. The attorney representing both families, Elliot Buckner, told 8News on Tuesday that these suits were filed June 10 “against the helicopter manufacturer, parts manufacturers and maintenance companies.”
Buckner confirmed that his clients filed separate wrongful death and civil action lawsuits on Monday against the commonwealth of Virginia, the Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security (PSHS) and Virginia State Police.
The lawsuits, both essentially identical, are seeking $50 million in compensatory damages, $350,000 in punitive damages and a trail by jury.
Cullen and Bates were hovering above the Unite the Right rally to ensure the safety of then-Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s motorcade when 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 lawsuit details.
Both complaints state that Cullen and Bates died “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.”
In the wake of the deadly crash, 8News reported that the helicopter used by Cullen and Bates had been “substantially damaged” in 2010 during an emergency landing. A National Transportation Safety Board report said the 2010 emergency landing was likely due to “improper repair of an engine component by a repair facility, which resulted in a complete loss of power.”
8News has learned that at the time of the accident, the helicopter had accrued approximately 6,000 total hours of operation. According to FAA airworthiness records and helicopter maintenance records, the helicopter was manufactured in 2000. The helicopter’s most recent 100-hour inspection was completed on Aug. 3, 2017.
A spokesperson for Virginia State Police says the agency does not comment on pending litigation. We got the same answer from the Governor’s Office. 8News also reached out to a number of aviation experts who declined to go on camera. They did say helicopters are supposed to be regularly inspected.