At least 1,200 attend funeral for Virginia State Police pilot Jay Cullen, who died in Charlottesville helicopter crash

VSP Cullens funeral

The second of two state police pilots killed when their helicopter crashed after monitoring street violence in Charlottesville between white supremacists and counter-protesters a week ago was remembered Saturday by friends, family and Virginia’s governor for his quiet commitment to duty and leading the department’s air wing more by listening than talking.  A funeral for Lt. H. Jay Cullen — one day after services for his copilot — ran about two hours in the packed sanctuary of the Southside Church of the Nazarene, to which the service was moved from the Cullen family’s Methodist church to accommodate the overflow turnout.  At least 1,200 people attended, including hundreds of police officers from as far away as California and Texas, as well two former governors, state legislators, judges and Cabinet secretaries.  Col. W. Steven Flaherty, the state police superintendent who met Cullen 17 years ago, said aviation was Cullen’s passion and that he insisted on flying last Saturday because of his familiarly with the computerized video equipment the department used to coordinate the police response to the violence in Charlottesville.  It included the death of a counter-protester allegedly mowed down by a car driven by a white nationalist who has been charged with second-degree murder.  “He listened more than he talked, and when he said something, it was because he had something relevant to say,” Flaherty said of Cullen, adding — to knowing chuckles that rippled across the sanctuary — that the 48-year-old officer who joined state police in 1994 also could make his point with a “wry smile.”  Cullen’s funeral was a moving blend of emotion and precision, opening and closing with the moan of bagpipes and snap of snare drums played by officers from Virginia and other states.  After seven state police pallbearers bore Cullen’s cremated remains to a gray hearse, Gov. Terry McAuliffe presented a folded Virginia flag to Cullen’s widow, Karen, who quietly sobbed.  Police helicopters from nine states flew over the church one by one, the thwack-thwack-thwack of their rotors a tribute to Cullen.  Also — as is the custom at a police funeral — the fallen officer’s badge number is called, approximating the end-of-shift protocol when a trooper goes off duty.  Three times, Nancy Parker, a dispatcher in the Richmond division of state police, called Cullen’s badge number, 71, before announcing, “no contact.”  The ritual was broadcast by radio across the division, which included the state police aviation division Cullen joined in 1999.  In addition to McAuliffe and his wife, Dorothy, the Cullen funeral was attended by Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam, the Democratic nominee for governor; Attorney General Mark Herring; former governors Tim Kaine and Jim Gilmore; House Majority Leader M. Kirkland Cox, R-Colonial Heights; Ed Gillespie, the Republican gubernatorial candidate; and Sen. Jill Holtzman Vogel, R-Fauquier, her party’s nominee for lieutenant governor.  McAuliffe, among several chief executives flown by Cullen, said that Cullen — a lean, cycling enthusiast, the husband of a cancer-surviving school teacher and the father of two teenage sons — was a “silent giant” and a “serious, safety-conscious pilot” with whom the politician shared a love of dogs and sports.  “It won’t be the same when I step into that helicopter without Jay in the right front seat, with ‘Cullen’ on the back of his helmet,” said McAuliffe, who described himself and the first lady as “heartbroken” over the deaths of Cullen and Trooper-Pilot Berke M.M. Bates.  A funeral for Bates, a former member of McAuliffe’s security detail, was held Friday at St. Paul’s Baptist Church in Henrico County.  McAuliffe said that on Friday night he gathered with officers from across Virginia and other states in a Shockoe Bottom nightspot favored by Bates for “an Irish wake for the two Irishmen,” hoisting glasses of Jameson whiskey to the troopers.  The governor later tweeted photographs of the gathering.