VSP helicopter video helping fallen trooper’s family grieve

CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA (WDBJ7)-- It has been two years since a Virginia State Police helicopter crashed in Charlottesville, killing two officers.

The crash is still under investigation. In a preliminary report, the NTSB said the helicopter spun out of control, descended into trees and caught on fire after crashing. A final report was supposed to be released within 18 months. However, the investigation is ongoing.

According to the VSP, the helicopter was in Charlottesville to fly over the Unite the Right rally, and the accompanying counter-protests, in the city August 12.

The helicopter crashed less than three hours after the car attack on the Historic Downtown Mall.

The aerial video, made public in federal court last month, shows the VSP pilots flying over 4th and Water St. as James Alex Fields Jr. launched his deadly, race-fueled attack. The helicopter video was used as a key piece of evidence during Fields' sentencing and now, two years later, it is giving one of the officer’s family insights into his last hours alive.

As Fields plowed through the crowd of counter-protesters, Trooper Berke Bates is heard in the helicopter video, “Oh my God. That car just drove through them.”

Fields fled the scene, Bates and the other officers stayed on the car overhead, determined.

The helicopter followed Fields through the streets of Charlottesville for more than four minutes. The officers were able to provide street coordinates and aided in Fields’ arrest.

“He’s in that mode of, I’m getting this guy,” said Craig Bates, Trooper Bates’ younger brother, watching the video. “It’s so bittersweet to hear his voice again.”

Bates has not heard his brother’s voice in two years, since that day when he got a phone call he will never forget.

“There’s been a crash, Berke has been killed and there are state troopers on the way over to your parent’s house. You need to get there before they do,” said Craig Bates, walking WDBJ7 through the phone call he received that fateful day.

After Fields was arrested, the pilot riding with Trooper Bates switched out of the helicopter. Lt. Jay Cullen replaced the pilot. He and Bates were leaving to provide support for a motorcade carrying Governor Terry McAuliffe at 4:42 p.m. Two minutes later, the first 911 call came in reporting a deadly helicopter crash, according to the NTSB.

The video has since been used as a key piece of evidence in achieving Fields’ multiple life sentences. But it has also provided insight and comfort to Trooper Bates’ brother surrounding the last hours of his life.

"It just makes us so filled with pride,” said Craig Bates. “To hear his determination to find this person and his determination to do what he could to make the Commonwealth of Virginia a safer place in the midst of all that madness.”

Bates said it is important to his family that people watch the video and remember the sacrifice he and Lt. Cullen made that day.

“It’s a day that I will never forget and I don’t ever want anyone to forget Berke and what he did that day too,” said Bates.