Pinellas County Sheriff Deputy Michael Hartwick was killed by a hit-and-run driver overnight and the suspect is now in custody.

Florida House Republican Files Proposal To Honor Fallen Pinellas County Deputy

Pinellas County Sheriff Deputy Michael Hartwick was killed by a hit-and-run driver overnight and the suspect is now in custody.
Pinellas County Sheriff’s Deputy Michael Hartwick, Source: PCSO

PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. – A House Republican filed a proposal Monday that would honor Pinellas County Sheriff’s Deputy Michael Hartwick.

Deputy Hartwick was killed in the line of duty in September.

Rep. Linda Chaney, R-St. Pete Beach, filed a bill (HB 63) that would name a portion of Interstate 275 as “Deputy Sheriff Michael Hartwick Memorial Highway.”

Hartwick died Sept. 22 after he was assigned to provide safety for a construction crew doing overnight work on the interstate, according to a news release posted on the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office website.

Hartwick, who had been a Pinellas County deputy for 19 years, was struck by a construction worker driving a front-end loader.

Citing an unnamed U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement source and local law enforcement, Fox News reporter Bill Melugin tweeted at the time that the suspect entered the U.S. illegally last October.

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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.

The sheriff told FOX 13 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,” Gualtieri 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.”

Gov. Ron DeSantis said Hartwick’s death offers further evidence of President Joe Biden’s failed immigration policies.

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. 

Chaney’s bill is filed for consideration during the 2023 legislative session, which will start March 7.

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