Worker on front end loader hits, kills Florida deputy

Deputy was killed instantly in construction safety zone on Interstate 275.

A Florida sheriff’s deputy working an overnight shift to provide safety at a construction zone was struck and killed by a worker operating a front end loader who is in the U.S. illegally, officials said Friday.

Pinellas County Sheriff’s Deputy Michael Hartwick had started his shift shortly before the incident happened late Thursday on Interstate 275, Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said during a pair of Friday news conferences.

The initial name given by the worker, Victor Vazquez-Real, was false, Gualtieri said. His real name is Juan Ariel Molina-Salles, 32, who the sheriff said is a migrant from Honduras who arrived in March and was deported previously.

“He shouldn’t have been here. He shouldn’t have been driving that thing,” Gualtieri said of the large road construction vehicle. “He shouldn’t be working.”

Molina-Salles fled from the job site on foot, allegedly with the help of a co-worker, but was eventually tracked down using bloodhounds, the sheriff said.

The sheriff said Hartwick had blocked the two inside southbound lanes of the interstate and was standing on the road’s shoulder when he was struck by the front end loader traveling at about 20 mph (32 kph). Hartwick died instantly, Gualtieri said.

The construction worker continued driving for about one mile (1.6 kilometers) before stopping in a parking lot, the sheriff said. He then told another construction worker that he had killed a deputy. That worker took Molina-Salles’ gear and hid it in a wooded area, the sheriff said.

The sheriff said Molina-Salles will be charged with leaving the scene of an accident involving death, which carries a minimum-mandatory four-year prison sentence. The other construction worker is being charged with accessory after the fact.

It was not immediately known whether Molina-Salles has a lawyer who can speak on his behalf. He had not yet been booked into jail early Friday afternoon.

Hartwick had been with the agency for 19 years.

“Mike was a good guy, a good cop,” Gualtieri said. “He did his job.”

The company that employs the two workers, Tampa-based Archer Western Construction, did not immediately respond to a phone call seeking comment. The company is involved in several large transportation projects in the Tampa Bay area, some involving contracts with the state of Florida.

Gualtieri said he referred the matter to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which has jurisdiction over immigration issues.


Republished with permission from The Associated Press.

Associated Press


  • PeterH

    September 23, 2022 at 4:01 pm

    The contractor who hired this incompetent should be held accountable. Did you even ask for a Social Security card or did you pull this worker from a 7-11 parking lot?

  • David in Shoreline

    September 23, 2022 at 4:28 pm

    RIP Deputy Hartwick. I hope your family can find some peace knowing that you served the public with dedication for 19 years.

    I sincerely hope the contractor is bankrupted by this incident. And the corporate officers jailed. These idiots are only looking for one thing – cheap labor to pad their profit margins – safety be damned.

    Oh, and secure the damn border already!

  • Hope

    September 23, 2022 at 6:15 pm

    More blood on Biden’s hands. This is just one of hundreds of thousands of reasons Biden will be impeached because of his dereliction of duty in securing the Border.

    • The Real Truth

      September 24, 2022 at 9:45 pm

      This all started under TRUMP. But Trump’s going to jail anyway.

      “President Trump entered the White House with the goal of reducing legal immigration by 63 percent. Trump was wildly successful in reducing legal immigration. By November 2020, the Trump administration reduced the number of green cards issued to people abroad by at least 418,453 and the number of non‐​immigrant visas by at least 11,178,668 during his first term through November 2020. President Trump also entered the White House with the goal of eliminating illegal immigration but Trump oversaw a virtual collapse in interior immigration enforcement and the stabilization of the illegal immigrant population. Thus, Trump succeeded in reduce legal immigration and failed to eliminate illegal immigration. President Trump’s top policy priority was supposedly “border security.” But government data show that he failed to improve it. Border Patrol recorded 41 percent more successful illegal entries in fiscal year 2019 than in 2016 and was on pace for 47 percent more through four months of 2020. As he left office in January, reports indicate that the numbers have reached even greater heights.” – CATO INSTITUTE

  • Richard Bruce

    September 23, 2022 at 8:29 pm

    Need to add the President as a co-conspirator in the murder case.

  • LittleRedRidingHood

    September 24, 2022 at 7:16 am

    Silly me, I thought US businesses were obligated to ensure the people they hired were entitled to be in the US and to work. Deport all illegals! And close the border so no more can get in!

Comments are closed.


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