RICHMOND, Va. (CN) – The families of two Virginia state troopers killed in a helicopter crash during a 2017 white nationalist rally sued the state, claiming it did not properly maintain the chopper that abruptly slammed into the ground and burst into flames.
In two nearly identical complaints filed Monday in Richmond City Circuit Court, relatives of Henry John Cullen III and Berke Morgan Matthew Bates are asking for over $50 million each. They are represented by lead attorney Elliott Buckner with Breit Cantor in Richmond.
According to the lawsuits against Virginia State Police, the commonwealth and its secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security, the agencies failed to properly maintain the helicopter flown by Cullen and Bates on Aug. 12, 2017, during the white nationalist Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville.
The chopper “demonstrated itself to be a maintenance nightmare” with engine and fuel control operation problems, the complaint states.
The two troopers were flying as part of their official duty to observe “the ultra-nationalist demonstrations” when the helicopter hovered, pitched up and down suddenly and then “crashed into the ground and burst into flames” shortly after takeoff, the families say.
“Both Henry John Cullen III and Berke Morgan Bates perished in the conflagration that enveloped the helicopter primarily due to the lack of proper maintenance and repair of the helicopter,” the lawsuit states.
In a phone call, the plaintiffs’ attorney Buckner said he was unable to provide further comment beyond what is in the complaint.
A request for comment from the state attorney general’s office was directed to Virginia State Police, where a spokesperson said in an email that the agency does not comment on pending litigation.
Cullen and Bates were among three people who died that day in Charlottesville.
Heather Heyer, 32, was struck and killed when white nationalist and rally attendee James Alex Fields Jr. drove his car through a crowd of counterprotestors. Twenty-eight others were injured.
Fields pleaded guilty to 28 hate crime-related charges in order to avoid the death penalty and was sentenced to life in prison.
Numerous lawsuits have been filed against the city, the event’s organizers and the state over their handling of the deadly rally.
In May 2018, a federal judge dismissed claims against the city, state and state police after counterprotestors argued the “stand down” order issued by the authorities lead the groups to clash violently in the streets of the otherwise quiet college town.
The Fourth Circuit heard oral arguments in an appeal of that decision earlier this year, but seemed unlikely to overturn the lower court’s decision.
Jason Kessler and other organizers of the event are facing civil claims by those same injured counterprotests. Kessler on Monday refiled his own lawsuit claiming the city and state police violated his civil rights when police issued the stand down order.