Governor, law enforcement honor second trooper killed in Charlottesville crash
CHESTERFIELD — As the helicopters he so loved in life flew overhead, hundreds gathered Saturday morning at Chesterfield’s Southside Church of the Nazarene to honor the last journey of Virginia State Police Lt. H. Jay Cullen, 48, to his final resting place.
In the last of three funerals for those who lost their lives Aug. 12 after violence broke out at a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Cullen was remembered as a devoted husband and father, a leader in law enforcement, an adventurer and, in the words of Gov. Terry McAuliffe, “a silent giant.”
“He was the best of the best of the Virginia State Police,” said McAuliffe.
The governor was in a position to know: for the past three and a half years, Cullen had served as his pilot on official visits around the commonwealth. Happiest in a cockpit, the trooper didn’t talk much, both McAuliffe and VSP Superintendent Col. Steven Flaherty remembered, unless the subject was his
“(Lt. H. Jay Cullen) will be so sorely missed, but I will always remember him.”
family or dogs.
Cullen fell in love with flying at an early age. Determined to become a pilot, he enrolled at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Fla., and went on to become a flight instructor before joining the Virginia State Police in 1993. Six years later, he became a trooperpilot in VSP’s Aviation Unit, where he rapidly climbed the ranks, ultimately being named unit commander this past February.
“I think he loved it every day he was there,” said Will Payne, who met Cullen at Embry-Riddle and formed a lifelong friendship with him.
On Aug. 12, the day of his death, Cullen was again airborne, providing assistance to law enforcement in Charlottesville in a Bell 407 helicopter with his colleague, Trooper-Pilot Berke M. M. Bates. Investigators have yet to determine what went wrong, but shortly before 5 p.m. the helicopter crashed into a wooded area of Albemarle County. Both Cullen and Berke were killed.
While the cause of the crash has not yet been discovered, colleagues recalled Cullen as serious about safety. Several times, McAuliffe remembered, he had been frustrated by Cullen’s refusal to send up a helicopter for the governor when conditions were unfavorable.
“I would fly anytime, anywhere, in any condition, in any aircraft with Jay Cullen,” said Flaherty.
Down on the ground, too, he was a stabilizing force for many. A family man, he preferred to spend his non-working
—Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe
hours at home with his wife, Karen, and his two sons, Max, 14, and Ryan, 17. Often, he was so eager to engage with his children when he got off work that he would jump into a basketball game or help Ryan with an oil change before he had even changed out of his uniform.
The Cullen home, said Rev. Gordon Pruitt, pastor of the family’s church, Woodlake United Methodist, was one “of great joy” and shared laughter. Jay and Karen Cullen were described by many as “soulmates,” a couple who got together after he left a note on her car that read: “Will you go with me? Yes or no?” Over the years, they navigated life’s ups and downs together, having two children and overcoming Karen Cullen’s struggles with breast cancer and a broken neck.
“Jay was calm. Jay was understanding,” said Pruitt. “Jay was the rock.”
Although on Saturday it was evident that many of the hundreds who turned out to mourn Cullen’s passing felt unmoored by the loss, that grief was mingled with a strain of gratitude from those whose paths had crossed with the trooper’s over the years.
As McAuliffe said, “He will be so sorely missed, but I will always remember him.” — Sarah Vogelsong may be reached at svogelsong@progress-index. com or 804-722-5154.
Will Payne, a long-time friend of fallen Virginia State Police Lt. H. Jay Cullen, gestures upwards as he talks about what he thinks Cullen may have thought about all the attention paid to him, during a memorial service at Southside Church of the...
An American flag is reflected on the windshield of a hearse carrying the remains of Virginia State Police Lt. H. Jay Cullen following a memorial service for the officer at Southside Church of the Nazarene in Chesterfield on Saturday.