Long, Florida. – For the second time in less than two years, the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office is mourning the loss of a deputy.
Late Thursday night, Representative Mike Hartwick was providing security at a construction site along I-275 when he was hit and killed by a man driving a front loader, then fled the scene, according to the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office.
Hartwick’s dashcam video shows him getting off his cruiser and walking onto the shoulder of the road. About a minute later, the video shows a construction truck passing south and then a front loader passing at around 20 mph.
The video shows her passing through the front of Representative Hartwick’s car with a white pickup truck behind her escorting her. Then the white truck came to a sudden stop because the front loader hit Hartwick’s deputy and killed him.
The front-loader operator continued to operate, according to the PCSO.
Juan Ariel Molina-Sales, also known as Victor Vázquez-Real, is accused of beating and killing a Pinillas County deputy at a construction site. Mugshot via Pinellas Sheriff’s Office
Representatives say the front truck driver finally stopped it and told another construction worker he had just killed a deputy.
Then he took off his construction hat and his traffic jacket. He handed the items to another construction worker, later known as Eliezer Aurelio Gomez Zelaya, and asked him to hide and dispose of them.
The suspect then fled north on foot.
This was followed by a nine-hour chase through Pinellas County and Tampa. The search included all Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office K9s, three helicopters, Pasco County bloodhounds and hundreds of law enforcement officers.
A member of the K9 family found the jacket and helmet that the other construction worker had thrown into the woods. The hound that was given the scent on the items was able to track down the suspect.
Originally, the suspect told law enforcement officers that his name was Victor Vázquez Real. He said he is 35 years old and from Puerto Rico. However, Gualtieri says that was just a bunch of bullshit.
Representatives in the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office mourn the loss of fellow Representative Michael Hartwick. (Courtesy Aaron Mesmer)
His real name, according to Gualtieri, is Juan Ariel Molina-Salles. He is 32 and Gualtieri says he entered the country illegally on October 25, 2021, on Eagle Pass Texas. It was turned around by a border patrol and sent back to Mexico. Gualtieri says there is no record of him entering the United States legally.
Gualtieri says there were a lot of construction workers on the site and most of them lied to MPs and obstructed the investigation by providing false names and information.
According to the PCSO, all of the construction workers were employed by Archer Western, a contractor that does work for the Florida Department of Transportation outside of Tampa.
“This company is hiring a bunch of illegal people and they are all lying and giving us fake names and fake IDs and a lot of fake IDs out of North Carolina that really thwarted this investigation. This guy we have illegally detained here and escaped, he said, because he was scared after That killed the deputy. He clearly knew he killed the deputy because when he was holed up there last night he had a cell phone. We had some ways to track what it was he was dealing with his cell phone and he actually called his roommate in Tampa another guy who is here illegally He came and tried to pick him up. He watched all the law enforcement activity and called him back and said, “I’m ‘I don’t get involved in this,'” and he turned and went back to Tampa.
He added, “You’ve got a bunch of illegal immigrants working for this state contractor. They shouldn’t be here and they shouldn’t be working and they shouldn’t be here to do that. This guy was going, I think too fast, for this thing. Again, he was He knows he hit a deputy, and instead of stopping and offering help and accepting responsibility for what he did, we had to go after him and check all this crap with all these people lying and giving out false identities and we spent nine hours there chasing this thing.”
According to Gualtieri, Molina-Salles told the builder he did construction in Honduras, so they brought him on board. Gualtieri added that Molina-Salles had given the company a fake ID.
“He didn’t have a driver’s license. He doesn’t have anything. He shouldn’t have been here from the start and he shouldn’t have been driving. He shouldn’t have worked… He doesn’t have the qualifications to drive a front loader,” he explained.
“This is not without casualties,” Gualrieri said. We have a dead deputy. We have a guy who shouldn’t be here. He shouldn’t have been driving this thing. He shouldn’t have fled. He shouldn’t have done any of this and the companies out there are doing it. Why would they? Of course, that’s a question My rhetoric and I will answer it. They do it because they make money from it. So, are they making money now from Dead Vice? Is it worth it? Really?
According to Gualtieri, local law enforcement does not have jurisdiction to enforce immigration.
“I can’t put them in jail,” he said. “I can do absolutely nothing with them. The most I can do is what you can do – pick up the phone and call ICE and say you have a man who is here illegally.”
Gualtieri says he took a detainee at Molina-Salles, which means that if he is ever released, the PCSO will not release him because of it. Then ICE will accompany him.
Molina-Salles faces charges of leaving the scene of the death. It is a first-degree felony with a mandatory minimum of four years in state prison.
Gomez Zelaya, who also lied about his identity, was charged with the accessory after the incident.
“It’s sad,” said the sheriff. “It’s really… I look at this like, really, these are twice in 18 months now. We go 109 years without a death in the line of duty and now you go two years in 19 months, but that’s the nature of the business… We’re putting the bad guys in custody where They belong and that’s respect for Mike.”
In February 2021, Pinellas County Representative Michael Magley was murdered by a drunken accused driver who hit him while trying to stop the suspect. Magley is the first District Attorney in Pinellas County to be killed in the line of duty.
Deputy Hartwick has served as Deputy Sheriff’s Office for Pinellas County for 19 years, assigned to the Office of Patrol Operations. He is survived by his mother and two adult children.