Families remember 2 linemen killed while restoring power in Florida

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN/WAVY) - The two North Carolina men killed in a hit-and-run Wednesday night while they were restoring power in the Florida Panhandle are being remembered by their families in the wake of the fatal incident.

According to the Florida Highway Patrol, 37-year-old John Goedtke, of Tampa, Florida, was traveling northbound on State 77 towing a U-Haul trailer. Goedtke's vehicle left the roadway and struck three utility workers attempting to restore power in the area.

Killed in the crash were Chipley, Florida, resident James Ussery, 60, along with George Cesil, 51, of Colerain, North Carolina, and Ryan Barrett, 22, of Roanoke Rapids.

Ussery and Cesil were pronounced dead at the scene. Barrett was taken to a local hospital in critical condition and later died from his injuries.

Ussery was employed by West Florida Electric Cooperative. Barrett and Cesil were employees of Lee Electric Construction Inc.

Lee Electric posted a statement on their Facebook page regarding the incident:

Cesil's son and brother spoke with WAVY, CBS 17's sister station in Portsmouth, Virginia.

"He was ready to come home and get near that water again," said Cesil's son, George Cesil.

Cesil loved the beauty of the Chowan River.

"He loved going out there fishing," George said.

He loved it so much, he built his retirement home just yards from the banks in Colerain.

"He didn't frame it and he didn't do the siding, but the trim, the deck, all the wiring and everything on the inside he did," said Cesil's brother, Robert Cesil.

Cesil spent his time at the home, but when he wasn't he was at work he was foreman for the local power company.

"He loved it," George Cesil added. "That was his work, his pride and joy."

The 51-year-old was always first to volunteer to help those after a disaster. He left to head to Florida a month ago after the area was devastated by Hurricane Michael.

"He was due to hopefully come home Saturday and we wanted to get together," Robert added. "Never again."

Goedtke has been arrested in Hillsborough County, Florida, 27 times since he was 19 years-old, according to jail records.

In the past he's been in trouble for drugs, battery, driving with a suspended or revoked license, grand theft, grand theft of motor vehicle, fraudulent use of a credit card, burglary, felony fleeing to elude, reckless driving, and resisting an officer with violence.

"There's just no excuse for it," Robert said. "It's pathetic and I miss my brother more than anything."

The victim's family says the focus shouldn't be on him, but what he took.

"I wish I could learn from him," George said about his dad.  "He had a lot to give. He had a lot of good information to give. I'll miss that. I'll miss that bonding time."

"I just want him to be remembered as a hero, because he was definitely my hero and I loved him so much," Robert said.

A family member of Ryan Barrett released a statement to the media Friday morning regarding his death:

On behalf of Ryan Barrett’s entire family, we thank all of those from around the country who have sent their thoughts and prayers for our son in the hours following this tragedy. We know that many of you will join us as we continue to carry Ryan in our hearts forever.  

Ryan wanted nothing more than to help others. In the days following Hurricane Florence he was ready to help restore power to those affected by the storm’s devastation. He never complained and was excited to do the same for those impacted by Hurricane Michael.  

We want to thank emergency services and the hospital workers who cared for Ryan. They grieved with us. They were the most amazing and loving people. Our hearts are grateful for their every effort.

We know that many of you will join us as we continue to carry Ryan in our hearts forever.

At this time, our family asks that we be allowed the time to process our devastating loss and share our grief in private. We also grieve for the other families impacted.  

Again, thank you for the outpouring of love and support that has been shared. We remain forever grateful."

Goedtke is facing charges of felony DUI manslaughter, felony vehicular homicide, felony leaving the scene and additional charges are pending, authorities said. He is being held in jail without bond.

The Florida Highway Patrol is investigating.

— WMBB contributed to this report

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