A suspect who killed a Pinellas County deputy in a hit-and-run crash late Thursday night was a suspected illegal immigrant, according to Fox News.
Citing an unnamed U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement source and local law enforcement, Fox News reporter Bill Melugin tweeted that the suspect entered the U.S. illegally last October.
The suspect was caught by Border Patrol and sent back to Mexico, but then re-entered the country at some point. It’s unclear how he got to Pinellas County.
The suspect initially gave a fake name and said he was from Puerto Rico. But Sheriff Bob Gualtieri has identified him as Juan Ariel Molina-Salles, and said no record exists of him entering the country legally.
Deputy Hartwick was providing security at a construction site along Interstate 275 Thursday night. He had exited his patrol car and was standing along the shoulder when the front-end loader driven by Molina hit him and kept going. Molina then fled the scene and was captured about nine hours later.
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The sheriff told FOX 13 in Tampa that a majority of Molina’s fellow construction workers impeded the manhunt by lying to investigators and providing false names and information.
Molina worked for a company called Archer Western, according to the Sheriff’s Office.
“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,” Gaultieri said.
“You got a bunch of illegals working for this state contractor out there. They shouldn’t be here and they shouldn’t be working and they shouldn’t be out here doing this. This guy was going, I think too fast, for this thing. Again, he knew he hit a deputy and as opposed to stopping, rendering aid, and accepting responsibility for what he did, we had to chase him around and sift through all this nonsense with all these people lying and providing fake IDs and we spent nine hours out there chasing this thing down.”
“I can’t put them in jail,” the sheriff continued. “I can’t do anything with them at all. The most I can do is what you can do: pick up the phone and call ICE and say you’ve got a guy who’s here illegally.”
In a statement tweeted by Melugin, the governor’s office said it was investigating the work history of the construction workers to see if they utilized fraudulent information to get jobs.
“As we collect details and examine potential courses of action, we are reminded once again that illegal immigration is a serious and ongoing problem in the United States that has a multifaceted effect on Florida,” DeSantis’ office said.
“If this individual’s illegal status played into his decision to cover up this incident, it underscores just one of the harms that our state faces because of the federal government’s open borders policies.”
“The state of Florida is not a sanctuary state and illegal immigrants are not authorized to work here. For reasons such as this, we will continue our lawful efforts to interdict and relocate illegal immigrants,” the statement concluded.