FHP: Three linemen killed by suspected drunk driver in Florida Panhandle

CHIPLEY, Fla. — Three power workers were killed after they were struck by the driver of a Ford F-150 towing a UHaul trailer in Washington County, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.

The crash occurred at 6:50 p.m. Wednesday at the intersection of State Road 77 and Talton Drive in Chipley, a small town north of Panama City. Troopers said the linemen were working on power poles in a ditch.

The power workers were in Chipley working to restore electricity to the hard-hit Florida Panhandle after Hurricane Michael.

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Authorities said the driver, 37-year-old John Goedtke, began to travel on the eastern grass shoulder of State Road 77 and collided with the three linemen.

Washington County Judge Colby Peel ordered Goedtke to be held without bond during his first appearance on Thursday. He is currently in the Washington County Jail and faces three counts of DUI manslaughter, felony vehicular homicide and leaving the scene.

Troopers identified the deceased as George Cecil, 52, of Cole Rain, North Carolina, and James Ussery, 60, of Chipley, Florida. A third victim, Ryan Barrett, 22, of Roanoke Rapids, North Carolina, died of his injuries on Thursday afternoon. Cecil and Barrett were employees of Lee Electric in North Carolina, and Ussery was an employee of West Florida electric.

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Goedtke, of Thonotosassa, reportedly hit the linemen and fled the scene on foot, but was quickly arrested, troopers said. FOX13 Tampa reported that Goedtke has several previous arrests in the state of Florida.

The investigation is ongoing.

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While none of the victims were from Northeast Florida, Jacksonville-area linemen said it hits close to home.

Jesse Ferraraccio has been a lineman with JEA for 10 years and said the job is extremely dangerous.

“We have those close calls all the time,” Ferraraccio said. “Even when we have cones and stuff out, you've got cars blowing by you.”

Ferraraccio wants to remind drivers of Florida’s Move Over law, which requires you to move over a lane for stopped law enforcement, emergency, sanitation, utility service vehicles and tow trucks or wreckers.

If you can’t move over, slow to a speed that is 20 mph less than the posted speed limit.

“Please recognize us just as you would blue lights or red lights on the side of the road. just because we have yellow lights doesn't make us any less important,” Ferraraccio said.

“Remember we've all got family, friends, children. please move over slow down so we can go and see our families every night too.”