1 dead after driver plows into Charlottesville protests; suspect in custody

Published: Aug. 12, 2017 at 3:47 PM EDT|Updated: Jan. 19, 2018 at 7:53 AM EST
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Source: NBC12
Source: NBC12

CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA (WWBT) - One person was killed during protests in Charlottesville and two Virginia State Police personnel died in a helicopter crash that was related to the event.

Hundreds of people were protesting during a "United the Right" rally planned in the Virginia city's downtown.

Rally supporters and counter-protesters screamed, chanted, threw punches, hurled water bottles and unleashed chemical sprays on each other Saturday morning.

?Saturday afternoon a car plowed into one of the groups, killed one woman, who has not yet been identified, and injured at least two dozen more. 

Charlottesville Police confirm that the driver -- Alex Fields Jr. of Maumee, Ohio -- is in custody and has been charged with second-degree murder. He also faces three counts of malicious wounding and one count of failing to stop.

Three other people were also arrested in connection to the planned rally, according to Virginia State Police:

  • Troy Dunigan, 21, of Chattanooga, Tennessee, was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct.
  • Jacob L. Smith, 21, of Louisa, Virginia, was arrested and charged with misdemeanor assault & battery.
  • James M. O’Brien, 44, of Gainesville, Florida, was arrested and charged with carrying a concealed handgun.

A State Police helicopter that was headed to the scene on Saturday afternoon crashed near Charlottesville.

Two State Police personnel -- Lt. H. Jay Cullen, 48, of Midlothian, and Trooper-Pilot Berke M.M. Bates of Quinton -- died on the scene.

On Twitter, President Trump condemned the violence:

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe declared a state of emergency. He later held a press conference, telling the alt-right to "go home."

Men dressed in militia uniforms were carrying shields and openly carrying long guns.

Right-wing blogger Jason Kessler planned what he called a "pro-white" rally to protest Charlottesville's decision to remove a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee from a city park. Thousands of people are expected to pack the area.

There were also fights Friday night, when hundreds of white nationalists marched through the University of Virginia campus carrying torches.

A university spokesman said one person was arrested and several people were injured.

Statement from Gov. McAuliffe:

At 11:28 a.m., the Virginia State Police contacted me to request a state of emergency and I immediately authorized the declaration. We have maintained close contact with the Virginia State Police, the Virginia National Guard, the Virginia Department of Emergency Management, and other state and local officials on the ground in Charlottesville, and I agree that the situation in Charlottesville warrants an emergency declaration by me, in order to aid City and County law enforcement in their efforts to restore public safety and order in the City of Charlottesville and the surrounding area.  In the days and weeks leading up to this event, my Administration engaged in extensive planning and preparation to ensure that the rally in Charlottesville could be held in a safe and lawful environment. These preparations included the deployment of a large number of state troopers, as well as the Virginia National Guard for support.

It is now clear that public safety cannot be safeguarded without additional powers, and that the mostly out-of-state protesters have come to Virginia to endanger our citizens and property.  I am disgusted by the hatred, bigotry and violence these protesters have brought to our state over the past 24 hours. The actions I have taken are intended to assist local government and restore public safety. 

My entire team will continue to monitor this situation throughout the day, and take appropriate action as necessary.

On Saturday evening, UVA President Teresa A. Sullivan told the community to stay at home.

"The safety and well-being of all members of our community is my most important priority as president," she said. "I ask that you help by staying off the streets tonight as our public safety officials work to maintain order and offer assistance to those who are in need."

Saturday's violence is also under investigation by the FBI:

The Richmond FBI Field Office, the Civil Rights Division, and the US Attorney's Office for the Western District of Virginia have opened a civil rights investigation into the circumstances of the deadly vehicular incident that occurred earlier Saturday morning. The FBI will collect all available facts and evidence, and as this is an ongoing investigation we are not able to comment further at this time.

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