Amanda Bates and Karen Cullen both filed their separate lawsuits Monday, naming the commonwealth of Virginia, the secretariat of public safety and homeland security and the Virginia State Police as defendants.
Berke M.M. Bates, 40, and H. Jay Cullen, 48, had been monitoring the white supremacist Unite the Right rally on Aug. 12, 2017. Footage from their helicopter recently was used as evidence in the murder trials of neo-Nazi James Alex Fields Jr.
In the late afternoon of Aug. 12, on the way to monitor then-Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s motorcade, their helicopter crashed, leaving both men dead.
“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 ones described above.”
According to the lawsuits, the helicopter — a Bell 407 manufactured by Bell Helicopter Textron — was difficult to maintain and had a history of malfunctions and repairs.
“From the outset, the Bell 407 demonstrated itself to be a maintenance nightmare with many Service Bulletins and Airworthiness Directives mandating that certain inspections and maintenance be performed to keep it flying (airworthy),” the complaint reads.
Among the specific issues cited in the complaint are: fuel control malfunctions that caused it to enter into a state insufficient for the engine to power the helicopter; problems with the tail rotor drive shaft; and flight control malfunctions.
Due to negligence from the defendants, there was nothing the troopers could have done to prevent their deaths, the complaint argues.
“[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.
Due to a loss of financial contributions, companionship and care, the families of the troopers are seeking $50 million jointly and severally from the defendants, $350,000 in punitive damages, plus prejudgment interest and other costs.