Illegal immigrant charged in death of Florida deputy killed in hit-and-run

A man who was arrested for death of a Florida sheriff’s deputy was living in the United States illegally, sources told Fox News.

Juan Ariel Molina-Salles, 32, has been charged with leaving the scene of an accident. The charge relates to Thursday’s hit-and-run death of Pinellas County sheriff’s deputy Michael Hartwick, who was a 19-year veteran.

According to the New York Post, Hartwick was working an evening shift traffic detail in a construction zone when Molina-Salles was driving a front loader that hit Hartwick, Sheriff Bob Gualtieri confirmed Friday. He said the driver of the vehicle was going “too fast.”

“He fled as he said because he became afraid after he killed the deputy, but he clearly knew he killed the deputy,” he said. “This guy that we have in custody is here illegally and he fled, as he said, because he became afraid after he killed the deputy.”

Molina-Salles originally provided police with the false name of Victor Vasquez-Real and said he was 35 years old. Investigators later learned “that was a bunch of nonsense,” Gualtieri concluded.

After hitting Hartwick, Molina-Salles reportedly kept driving and informed a colleague that he had just killed a deputy. He then removed his construction hat and traffic vest and allegedly handed it to the worker and told him to get rid of it.

The colleague, who has been identified as Elieswer Gomez-Zelaya, disposed of the items in the woods, Gualtieri said. 

Gomez-Zelaya was living in the U.S. illegally and was originally from Honduras. He has since been arrested and charged with being an accessory.

Gualtieri said that the construction site was largely occupied by illegal immigrants who provided false information to officers, which slowed down the investigation.

“This company is employing a bunch of illegals and they are all out there lying and giving us fake names, fake IDs, a lot of fake IDs out of North Carolina that really frustrated this investigation,” the sheriff said.

Gualtieri said Molina-Salles had provided a fake ID to the construction company and told them he had previously worked in Honduras.

“He didn’t have a driver’s license. He’s got nothing. He shouldn’t have been here to begin with and he shouldn’t have been driving. He shouldn’t have been working… He has no qualifications to drive a front loader,” he said.

The construction workers were employed by Archer Western, who is a Tampa-based contractor company working for the Florida Department of Transportation.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis tweeted to pay respects to Hartwick.

“Late last night, Deputy Michael Hartwick was killed in a hit-and-run crash while protecting workers in a construction zone on I-275 in St. Pete. Our prayers are with his family and the @SheriffPinellas team,” DeSantis said.




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