Man in country illegally arrested after hitting, killing Pinellas County deputy and fleeing scene

For the second time in less than two years, the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office is mourning the loss of a deputy.

According to the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office, late Thursday, Deputy Mike Hartwick was providing security at a construction site along I-275 when struck and killed by a man driving a front loader, who then fled the scene.

Hartwick’s dashcam video shows him getting out of 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 at about 20 mph.

The video showed him passing in front of Deputy Hartwick’s car and a white pickup truck behind him. Then the white pickup truck suddenly stops as the front loader rams and kills Deputy Hartwick.

According to the PCSO, the operator of the front loader kept running.

Juan Ariel Molina-Sales, aka Victor Vasquez-Real, is accused of stabbing and killing a Pinellas County deputy in a construction site. Mugshot via Pinellas Sheriff’s Office

Deputies say the driver of the front loader eventually pulled it over and told another construction worker that he had just killed a deputy.

Then he took off his construction hat and his traffic vest. He handed the objects to another construction worker, later identified as Elisar Aurelio Gómez-Zelaya, and asked him to hide them and get rid of them.

After this the suspect fled towards the north on foot.

molina salles gomez zelaya mugs

A nine-hour search began in Pinellas County and Tampa. The search involved all Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office K9s, three helicopters, Pasco County Bloodhounds and hundreds of law enforcement officers.

One of the K9s found the vest and helmet, which were thrown into the woods by another construction worker. A Bloodhound who was smelled on the objects was able to track down the suspect.

Originally, the suspect told law enforcement officers that his name was Victor Vasquez-Real. He said he was 35 years old and from Puerto Rico. However, Gualtieri says that was a bunch of nonsense.

Representatives from the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office mourn the loss of fellow Deputy Michael Hartwick,

Representatives from the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office mourn the loss of fellow Deputy Michael Hartwick, (courtesy Aaron Mesmer)

His real name, according to Gualtieri, is Juan Ariel Molina-Sales. He is 32 years old and Gualtieri says he entered the country illegally at Eagle Pass Texas on October 25, 2021. He was turned around by a border patrol and deported back to Mexico. Gualtieri says there is no record of him legally entering the United States.

Gualtieri says there were a lot of construction workers at the site and most of them lied to deputies and obstructed the investigation by providing false names and information.

According to the PCSO, all construction workers were employed by Archer Western, a contractor working for the Florida Department of Transportation from Tampa.

“This company is hiring a bunch of illegal people and they are all lying and giving us fake names, fake IDs, lots of fake IDs from North Carolina that really frustrate this investigation. This guy The one we keep in custody is here illegally and he ran away, as he said, because he was scared after killing the deputy. He clearly knew he killed the deputy because when he was there last night He had a cell phone. We had some way of tracking what he was doing with his cell phone and he actually called his roommate in Tampa who’s another guy who’s here It’s illegal. He came and tried to take her. He saw all the law enforcement activity and called her back and said, ‘I’m not going to get into this,’ and turned around and went back to Tampa.”

He said, “You’ve got a bunch of illegal people working for this state contractor. They shouldn’t be here and they shouldn’t work and they shouldn’t be here. This guy was leaving, I guess too.” is increasingly, for that matter. Again, he knew he had killed a deputy and as opposed to stopping, providing aid, and accepting responsibility for what he did, we had to chase him and all this nonsense. Had to lie through and provide fake IDs and we spent nine hours there chasing this thing.”

According to Gualtieri, Molina-Sales told the construction company that he built in Honduras so they brought him on board. Gualtieri said Molina-Sales gave the company a fake ID card.

“He didn’t have a driver’s license. He doesn’t have anything. He shouldn’t have been here to begin with and shouldn’t have driven. He shouldn’t have worked… He didn’t have any ability to drive a front loader.” No,” he explained.

“It’s not suffering,” said Gualieri. “We have a dead deputy. We have a guy who shouldn’t be here. He shouldn’t have run that thing. He shouldn’t have run away. He shouldn’t have done anything like that and there are companies out there doing that.” Why are they doing this? Of course, this is a rhetorical question and I will answer it. They are doing it because they are making money from it. So, are they now making money from a dead deputy? What? Is it worth it? Really?”

According to Gualtieri, local law enforcement has no jurisdiction to enforce immigration.

“I can’t put them in jail,” he said. “I can’t do anything with them. I can do all you can – pick up the phone and call ICE and say you have a guy who’s here illegally.”

Gualtieri says that he has received a detention on Molina-Sales, which means that if he is released at some point, the PCSO will not release him because of this. Then ICE will pick him up.

Molina-Sales is accused of leaving the scene of an accident involving the death. It is a first degree felony with a minimum requirement of four years in state prison.

Gomez-Zelaya, who also lied about her identity, has been accused of accessory after the fact.

molina salles gomez zelaya mugs

“It’s just sad,” said the sheriff. “It’s really … I look at it like this, in fact, it’s twice now in 18 months. We go 109 years without the Line of Duty death and now you go two in 19 months, but this The nature of the business is … we took the bad guys into custody where they are and it’s out of respect for Mike.”

In February 2021, Pinellas County Deputy Michael Magali was killed by an accused drunk driver while he was trying to stop the suspect. Magali was the first deputy to be killed in the line of duty in Pinellas County.

Deputy Hartwick served as a deputy to the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office for 19 years, being assigned to the Bureau of Patrol Operations. His family consists of his mother and two adult children.

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