Tarrant County Sheriff's Office Grieves Loss of Two Employees to COVID-19 a Day Apart

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The Tarrant County Sheriff’s office is grieving the loss of two employees to COVID-19 who died barely a day apart.

Deputy Howard Gudgell lost his battle on Friday.

"If you knew Gudge, he was always smiling,” said Deputy Brian Melashenko, a co-worker and friend. "People like him are very rare. He was the typical good old boy. He was known for his smile and good nature."

Gudgell worked for years as a courtroom bailiff and retired in 2015 but returned a few years later and worked in the warrants division.

The sheriff's office arranged a grand sendoff as his body was escorted from the hospital. Firefighters saluted from overpasses as the procession passed by.

As they grieved, they had no idea they would lose another co-worker to the virus just a day later.

Matthew Pagan, a husband and father of three, worked in the jail on the booking desk.

"It was very quick. It was sudden,” said detention officer Brittany Winters who worked with him. "Matthew Pagan was an outstanding man. He was genuine in everything he did. He was caring, he was compassionate."

And they soon developed a personal connection.

"He is the godfather to my new baby,” Winters said.

Pagan was already in the hospital when little Gemma was born two weeks ago.

"He never got to meet her, unfortunately,” Winters said.

Tarrant County Sheriff Bill Waybourn said both men will be remembered for years to come.

"Both of these guy's legacy -- good public servants,” Waybourn said. “They ran their race and they ran it well."

The department lost three other employees to COVID earlier.

"It's terrible,” Melashenko said. “It takes anybody it wants. Doesn't matter who it is."

The sheriff said the entire department is dealing with the same emotions.

"Incredibly sad, helpless, a little overwhelmed,” Waybourn said.

All those lost to the virus will be long remembered, he said.

And in the case of Matthew Pagan -- in the life of the goddaughter he never met.

"From here on out she will know his name and know who he was,” Winters said. “She'll grow up knowing exactly who he was."

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