Florida deputy killed in hit-and-run crash

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Two road construction workers are facing charges after one allegedly ran into a Pinellas County deputy with a forklift, killing him, and fled the scene.The collision occurred just after 11 p.m. Thursday in the area of Interstate 275 and Roosevelt Boulevard.Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said Deputy Michael Hartwick, a 51-year-old father, was in a construction zone, working a traffic detail when he was struck by a front end loader with a forklift.Hartwick had parked his cruiser to block two inside southbound lanes and was standing on the shoulder of the road, facing north when he was hit.Gualtieri said the front end loader, which was used to lift concrete barriers, was traveling at about 20 mph. Hartwick died instantly.The forklift operator allegedly continued driving for about a quarter of a mile before he pulled into a parking area, got out of the vehicle and told another construction worker about what happened. He gave the worker his helmet and vest and ran off on foot, Gualtieri said.The sheriff said they initially believed the forklift operator was Victor Vazquez of Puerto Rico, but it turned out he was a 32-year-old undocumented immigrant named Juan Ariel Molina Salles, who was previously denied entry to the U.S. by Border Patrol at the U.S.-Mexican border.“He came back in through the Texas border, he is here illegally, and he’s been here in the Tampa Bay area since March of this year.Gualtieri said the other worker hid Molina Salles’ uniform. That worker also gave deputies a fake name and was identified as actually being was arrested and will be charged with being an accessory after the fact.Gualtieri said about 100 officers and K9 teams spent hours searching the area for Molina Salles. He also said they received a great deal of tips from the public as well.“We received a lot of information from the press conference this morning,” the sheriff said, thanking the public.He was taken into custody Friday morning, the sheriff’s office said in an updated press release, and faces a charge of leaving the scene of an accident involving a death, a second-degree felony.Gualtieri said Hartwick had worked for the sheriff’s office for 19 years. He was assigned to the patrol division, and worked the night shift for the North District Station.He is survived by his mother and adult children, according to the sheriff.“All I can say is here we go again. This is 18 months after Deputy Magli was killed,” Gualtieri said. “We go 110 years in the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office with no line-of-duty deaths, now we have two in 18 months.”St. Petersburg Ken Welch said he was saddened by Hartwick’s death and expressed his condolences to the deputy’s family.“These men and women put their lives on the line day in and day out and it’s imperative to us avoid avoidable accidents that caused this tragedy,” Welch said. “Our entire St. Pete family sends our love and prayers to Deputy Hardwick’s friends and family may your PCSO family remain strong and protected.”

Two road construction workers are facing charges after one allegedly ran into a Pinellas County deputy with a forklift, killing him, and fled the scene.

The collision occurred just after 11 p.m. Thursday in the area of Interstate 275 and Roosevelt Boulevard.

Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said Deputy Michael Hartwick, a 51-year-old father, was in a construction zone, working a traffic detail when he was struck by a front end loader with a forklift.

Hartwick had parked his cruiser to block two inside southbound lanes and was standing on the shoulder of the road, facing north when he was hit.

Gualtieri said the front end loader, which was used to lift concrete barriers, was traveling at about 20 mph. Hartwick died instantly.

The forklift operator allegedly continued driving for about a quarter of a mile before he pulled into a parking area, got out of the vehicle and told another construction worker about what happened. He gave the worker his helmet and vest and ran off on foot, Gualtieri said.

The sheriff said they initially believed the forklift operator was Victor Vazquez of Puerto Rico, but it turned out he was a 32-year-old undocumented immigrant named Juan Ariel Molina Salles, who was previously denied entry to the U.S. by Border Patrol at the U.S.-Mexican border.

“He came back in through the Texas border, he is here illegally, and he’s been here in the Tampa Bay area since March of this year.

Gualtieri said the other worker hid Molina Salles’ uniform. That worker also gave deputies a fake name and was identified as actually being was arrested and will be charged with being an accessory after the fact.

Gualtieri said about 100 officers and K9 teams spent hours searching the area for Molina Salles. He also said they received a great deal of tips from the public as well.

“We received a lot of information from the press conference this morning,” the sheriff said, thanking the public.

He was taken into custody Friday morning, the sheriff’s office said in an updated press release, and faces a charge of leaving the scene of an accident involving a death, a second-degree felony.

Gualtieri said Hartwick had worked for the sheriff’s office for 19 years. He was assigned to the patrol division, and worked the night shift for the North District Station.

He is survived by his mother and adult children, according to the sheriff.

“All I can say is here we go again. This is 18 months after Deputy Magli was killed,” Gualtieri said. “We go 110 years in the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office with no line-of-duty deaths, now we have two in 18 months.”

St. Petersburg Ken Welch said he was saddened by Hartwick’s death and expressed his condolences to the deputy’s family.

“These men and women put their lives on the line day in and day out and it’s imperative to us avoid avoidable accidents that caused this tragedy,” Welch said. “Our entire St. Pete family sends our love and prayers to Deputy Hardwick’s friends and family may your PCSO family remain strong and protected.”



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