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Hero Down: Pinellas County Deputy Michael Hartwick Killed In Hit-And-Run Crash While Working Traffic Detail

St. Petersburg, FL – Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office (PCSO) Deputy Michael “Mike” Hartwick died in the line of duty on Thursday night after he was fatally struck by an illegal immigrant during a hit-and-run crash, according to police.

The 51-year-old deputy headed over to Interstate 275 near Ulmerton Road at approximately 10:30 p.m. on Sept. 22 after receiving a request to provide extra protection for an overnight construction crew working on the roadway, WTSP reported.

Deputy Hartwick put on his safety gear and proceeded to block off the two inside southbound lanes, Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri told NBC News.

He was standing on the shoulder of the interstate when a worker operating a front-end loader crashed into him at approximately 20 miles per hour, Sheriff Gualtieri said.

Deputy Hartwick, a 19-year veteran of the PCSO, was killed instantly, NBC News reported.

The suspect, later identified as 32-year-old illegal immigrant Juan Ariel Molina Salles, continued driving for about a mile after killing the veteran deputy, Sheriff Gualtieri said.

He then pulled off into a parking lot and allegedly told another coworker that he had killed a deputy, NBC News reported.

Investigators said the coworker took the suspect’s gear and stashed it in a nearby wooded area as Molina Salles fled the scene on foot, according to WTSP.

Molina Salles was apprehended early Friday morning after a massive multiagency manhunt, the PCSO said in a press release.

“The suspect who killed Deputy Michael Hartwick has been taken into custody,” the sheriff’s office said. “The Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office would like to express our gratitude and appreciation to the media and the public for their support.”

Sheriff Gualtieri said the suspect will be charged with leaving the scene of an accident involving death, NBC News reported.

His coworker, Elieser Aurelio Gomez-Zelaya, will be charged with accessory after the fact, according to WJAX.

Investigators said Molina Salles entered the U.S. illegally from Mexico in October of 2021, WTSP reported.

He’d previously been denied entry by the U.S. Border Patrol, according to WJAX.

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

The PCSO announced Deputy Hartwick’s death in a press release early Friday morning.

“It is with extraordinary sadness that we announce that Deputy Michael Hartwick was killed in the line of duty late Thursday evening as a result of a hit and run crash on I-275 in St. Petersburg,” the department said. “We would like to extend our sincerest condolences to Deputy Hartwick’s family during this difficult time. Please keep his loved ones along with our PCSO family in your thoughts and prayers.”

Deputy Hartwick leaves behind his mother and his two adult sons, according to the Officer Down Memorial Page.

“Mike was a good guy – a good cop,” Sheriff Gualtieri said, according to NBC News. “He did his job.”

Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Michael “Mike” Hartwick, both blood and blue. Thank you for your service.

Rest easy, hero. We’ll hold the line from here.

Written by
Holly Matkin

Holly is a former probation and parole officer who is married to a sheriff’s deputy. She is a regular contributor to Signature Montana magazine, and has written feature articles for Distinctly Montana magazine.

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Written by Holly Matkin


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