Karen Cullen

RICHMOND TIMES-DISPATCH FILE

Then-Gov. Terry McAuliffe hands Karen Cullen, the widow of Virginia State Police Lt. H. Jay Cullen, the flag during her husband’s funeral service on Aug. 19, 2017, at Southside Church of the Nazarene in Chesterfield. Cullen and Trooper-Pilot Berke M.M. Bates were killed in a helicopter crash on the day of the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville.

Negligence and fraud led to the death of two Virginia State Police officers on Aug. 12, 2017, their widows claim in wrongful death lawsuits.

The suits were filed in Albemarle County Circuit Court in June on behalf of Amanda Bates and Karen Cullen, whose husbands died in a helicopter crash after monitoring the Unite the Right rally.

Unlike the women’s lawsuits filed in Richmond City Circuit Court in July, the Albemarle suits only name corporate defendants, not state entities.

Widows of Aug. 12 helicopter crash victims sue state entities

The corporate defendants are: various Rolls-Royce Corp. entities; various Bell Helicopter Textron Inc. entities; Dallas Airmotive Inc.; Triumph Group Inc.; Uniflight West Penn LLC, a maintenance company; and Goodrich Pump & Engine Control Systems Inc.

The lawsuits accuse the defendants of negligence and fraud, an allegation to which some of the defendants have filed responses in the last two months.

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 that day, on the way to monitor then-Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s motorcade, their helicopter suddenly crashed, killing both men.

According to the lawsuits, the helicopter — a Bell 407 manufactured by Bell Helicopter Textron — was a “maintenance nightmare,” developing a reputation for often needing repairs. These repairs would ultimately lead to the crash, the complaints argue.

“The maintenance performed was negligent in that, among other things, these defendants failed to inform the Virginia State Police that the helicopter was beyond its useful service life and due to its history should have been retired from service and by otherwise failing to perform inspections and maintenance that fell well below the standard of care in the industry,” the complaints read.

In a demurrer response to Amanda Bates’ lawsuit, Bell Helicopter Textron denied responsibility for the crash and argued that the negligence and fraud claims are insufficient

The response denies responsibility for the officer’s death and poses several affirmative defenses, including the possibility of operator error.

Though contending with a claim from plaintiffs that its “nerve center” is in Reston, Rolls-Royce did not argue against the case’s jurisdiction.

Similar to Bell’s demurrer response, Rolls-Royce denies responsibility for the crash and argues that the claims of negligence and fraud are insufficient.

Rolls-Royce also poses 25 affirmative defense scenarios, presenting other arguments for fault.

Both Bell and Rolls-Royce have requested trials by jury.

The third defendant to respond so far — Dallas Airmotive — filed a motion to dismiss, arguing the case falls outside of the Virginia court’s jurisdiction.

Though the plaintiffs present an argument of various technical problems and repairs as leading to the crash, investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board are still working to determine why the aircraft fell out of the sky, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

Soon after the crash, the NTSB estimated that the agency’s final report would be completed within 12 to 18 months. It’s now 24 months and counting, and a spokesman for the NTSB recently said that the final decision is now not expected until next year.

Last year, the General Assembly appropriated funds for a new $6 million Bell 407 similar to the one that crashed.

No hearing dates have been set yet for the lawsuits filed in Albemarle.

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