Florida sheriff’s deputy run over and killed by front-end loader while guarding building site

The suspect in the death of Pinellas County Sheriff’s Deputy Michael Hartwick was arrested after a nine-hour manhunt

Andrea Blanco
Friday 23 September 2022 22:40 BST

A veteran Florida sheriff's deputy was killed by a front-end loader while he was providing security at a building site.

Fifty-one-year-old Deputy Michael Hartwick, with the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office, died on the scene after he was hit by a heavy-duty front-loader driving along I-275 on Thursday nigh, Fox 13 reported.

The driver, Juan Ariel Molina-Salles, 32, took off his construction vest and fled the scene, Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said during a press conference on Friday. The suspect allegedly called a fellow construction worker — who was also arrested for allegedly helping get rid of Mr Molina-Salle’s items — crying and saying that he had killed a deputy.

Mr Molina-Salles, a Honduran immigrant who entered the country illegally in March, was charged with an accident involving death, a felony that carries a minimum of four years in state prison. The other construction worker was charged with accessory after the fact.

It’s the second deputy the department has lost in the line of duty in its history.

Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Michael Hartwick, 51, died on the scene after he was hit by a heavy-duty front-loader

“We’ve got a dead deputy. We got a guy who shouldn’t be here. He shouldn’t have been driving that thing,” Sheriff Gualtieri said during the presser. “He shouldn’t have fled. He shouldn’t have done any of this and companies are out there doing that.”

“He dedicated 19 years of service to protect the people of Pinellas County. He shouldn’t have died this way,” the sheriff said of the deputy.

Law enforcement reviewed the video of Deputy Hartwick’s dashcam, which shows him getting out of his vehicle while a front-loader and a construction truck escorting it passed by. He is then hit moments later.

Suspect Juan Ariel Molina-Salles, 32

K9 units used in the investigation found Mr Molina-Salles’s vest in the woods and helped authorities track him down.

Sheriff Gualtieri said that Mr Molina-Salles had previously entered the country illegally in 2021 before being deported. He did not have a driver’s license and allegedly handed a fake ID and gave a fake name to authorities when he was captured.

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