Why Flags Are at Half-Staff in Three States Today

Flags have been lowered to half-staff in three U.S. states on Friday, honoring the lives of two police officers who died in the line of duty and a veteran U.S. government official who served as part of Donald Trump’s administration.

North Carolina Deputy Sheriff Chris Johnson, Georgia State Trooper Jimmy Cenescar and Iowa’s Bill Northey, who served as undersecretary for farm production and conservation at the U.S. Agriculture Department from 2018 to 2021, are being honored in their respective states.

Johnson, a father of four aged 51, died after he was involved in a three-car collision in Lillington, North Carolina, on Tuesday.

Flags have been lowered to half-mast in North Carolina, Iowa and Georgia Friday to honor two police officers and a U.S. government official who served in the Trump administration.

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A law enforcement veteran of 25 years, he served with the Harnett County Sheriff’s Office for 16 months and previously with the Sampson County Sheriff’s Office and Dunn Police Department.

A Facebook post by Harnett County Sheriff Wayne Coats said Johnson, who was also a school resource officer for Highland Middle School, succumbed to his injuries at the scene of the crash.

“He was a professional law enforcement veteran who was well respected by his colleagues in the profession and in his community,” Coats wrote.

South Harnett Elementary School paid tribute to Johnson on Facebook, writing, “He was such a kind, wonderful man and he will be greatly missed.”

A GoFundMe page to support Johnson’s wife and children has raised more than $9,000.

North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper ordered all U.S. and North Carolina flags at state facilities to be lowered to half-staff until sunset on Friday.

“I was deeply saddened to receive the news of the passing of Harnett County Deputy Sheriff Chris Johnson,” Cooper said in a statement. “Deputy Sheriff Johnson served the state and his community with distinction and honor, and my thoughts and prayers are with his friends and loved ones during this difficult time.”

The North Carolina State Highway Patrol is investigating the crash, news station WTVD in Durham said on Wednesday.

In Georgia, Governor Brian Kemp ordered the U.S. and state flags to be flown at half-staff at the State Capitol in Fulton and Gwinnett counties, and at all Department of Public Safety locations, on Friday to honor Cenescar.

The state trooper, 28, served with the Atlanta Police Department before joining the Georgia Department of Public Safety in January 2023, graduating with the 114th Trooper School. He was killed in the line of duty on January 28.

Cenescar died in a crash while attempting to arrest a fleeing motorcycle driver. A statement released by the Georgia Department of Public Safety on February 2 said Gerson Ayala Rodriguez was arrested in connection with Cenescar’s death.

Rodriguez was charged with felony murder, first-degree homicide, felony fleeing and attempting to elude and reckless driving charges, as well as other traffic-related charges.

In 2021, Cenescar received attention and praise for a daring rescue. He broke through a locked gate with his patrol car to reach a driver who had run off the road and plunged 50 feet into an embankment in northwest Atlanta, WAGA-TV in Atlanta reported.

An interview with Cenescar and footage of his rescue was released by the Atlanta Police Department.

“My training kicked in and I took action and took control of the scene,” Cenescar said.

An obituary said Cenescar’s funeral was scheduled for Friday at the Mount Paran Church in Deep Gap.

In Iowa, Governor Kim Reynolds ordered the lowering of flags at the State Capitol, on flag displays in the Capitol Complex and in all public buildings, grounds and facilities throughout the state to mark the death of Northey.

Northey, who was 64, served as Iowa’s secretary of agriculture from 2007 to 2018 and in the U.S. Department of Agriculture from 2018 to 2021, under former President Donald Trump.

An obituary said he is survived by his wife, Cindy; his mother, Margaret; three daughters; and six grandchildren, among other loved ones.

Flags will be at half-mast until sunset on Saturday, the day of Northey’s funeral and internment.

Bill Northey
The late Bill Northey is pictured at the Iowa State Fair in August 2011 with former Texas Governor Rick Perry during the latter’s presidential campaign.

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Reynolds said Northey “was a great leader whose work ethic and passion for Iowa agriculture was unmatched.”

“Iowans and farmers around the country were fortunate to have such a rock-solid advocate and friend,” the governor said. “Bill understood well our responsibility to be good stewards of the land and exemplified that calling throughout his career. But his life’s greatest role was as a loving husband, father and grandfather. Bill will be missed.”

Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley said in a tribute published earlier this week that the state’s farm community had “lost a giant.”

“Bill Northey was a dear friend and fierce advocate for the family farmer,” Grassley said. “As Iowa’s Secretary of Agriculture and Undersecretary for Farm Production and Conservation at the United States Department of Agriculture under President Trump, Bill’s commitments to agriculture, biofuels and conservation were unmatched.”

Grassley added: “The Northey family have been friends of the Grassleys since 1980, for over two generations. Our prayers are with them during this difficult time.”