Previously deported illegal alien killed deputy in hit-and-run

“Mike Hartwick was a cop doing his job. He was a good guy. He dedicated his 19 years of service to protecting the people of Pinellas County,” Gualtieri said. Hartwick was 51 and the father of two adult sons.

The sheriff identified the illegal alien suspect as 32-year-old Juan Ariel Molina-Salles. Molina-Salles initially provided law enforcement with the fake name “Victor Vazquez,” which Gualtieri called “a bunch of nonsense.” He is from Honduras, WFTS Tampa noted. The migrant crossed the border at Eagle Pass, Texas, in October 2021 and was picked up by U.S. Customs and Border Patrol before being “deported back to Mexico,” Gualtieri said.

“He came back through the Texas border, he’s here illegally, and he’s been here in the Tampa Bay area since about March of this year,” the sheriff said at a Friday news conference documented by WFLA.

He is charged with leaving the scene of an accident resulting in death, a first degree felony, and is being held on $500,000 bond.

“If he tried to support the charges against the state, the immigration detainee would step in,” Gualtieri said, meaning Immigration and Customs Enforcement would then take him into custody. “If he doesn’t bond, he will sit. He will go through the process in state court.

Hartwick was working on a construction detail on I-275 near Tampa and arrived at the job site around 10:40 p.m. Thursday, Gualtieri said. Shortly after Hartwick’s arrival, a large front loader traveling north believed to be operated by Molina-Salles struck and killed the deputy.

Gualtieri claimed the illegal alien continued driving and made a frantic phone call to another construction worker while sobbing before finally pulling off the road. He then gave his helmet and vest to another illegal alien working at the construction site, who also initially provided authorities with a false name but was later identified as Elieser Aurelio Gomez-Zelaya, according to the sheriff. Molina-Salles fled north and Gomez-Zelaya allegedly hid the hat and vest in the woods. Gomez-Zelaya is accused of being an accomplice after the fact and providing a false name or identity. Authorities are holding him on $100,135 bond.

Gualtieri said the search for Molina-Salles took nine hours in part because a number of illegal aliens working at the site were uncooperative:

The majority of them were giving false names, they were obstructing the investigation, not giving us answers to the questions we needed, and most importantly they were all giving us false names, like these guys, they were giving us all false names. All of these people work for Archer Western, which is a contractor that apparently works for the Florida Department of Transportation out of Tampa and that company employs all of these stowaways, and they’re all lying, giving us fake names, fake parts of identity. ; lots of fake IDs from North Carolina.

With the help of sleuths from the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office, authorities were able to find the vest and helmet Gomez-Zelaya allegedly hid in the woods and later located Molina-Salles, Gualtieri said.

“He doesn’t have a driver’s license; he has nothing,” Gualtieri said of Molina-Salles. “You know, he shouldn’t have been here to begin with, and he shouldn’t have been driving, and he shouldn’t have been working.”

As the manhunt continued, the defendant allegedly phoned his roommate in Tampa, who is also illegally in the United States.

“He came and tried to get it back,” Gualtieri said. “He actually saw all the law enforcement activity, called him back and said, ‘I’m not getting involved in this,’ and he turned around and went back to Tampa.”

On Friday, Hartwick’s body was transported from the medical examiner’s office to the Thomas B. Dobies funeral home in Tarpon Springs with a large police escort. First responders lined the road and saluted the hearse as citizens held up American and thin blue line flags as it made the solemn journey.


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