Man charged in fatal hit-and-run of Florida sheriff’s deputy is ILLEGAL IMMIGRANT who was expelled from US in October 2021, only to cross border again without being caught
- Deputy Michael Hartwick, 51, was killed on Thursday night at around 10:40pm when a front-end loader plowed into him as he stood on the hard shoulder
- The construction worker driving the vehicle, Juan Ariel Molina-Salles, 32, did not stop but telephoned a friend crying and saying what he had done
- The friend, Elieser Aureilio Gomez-Zelaya, took Molina-Salles’ construction vest and helmet and hid them in the woods
- Molina-Salles ran off and a nine-hour man hunt was launched for him, which ended in his arrest
- On Friday it emerged that both the Honduran-born men were in the United States illegally, and working under false identities
A man arrested on Friday on charges of killing a sheriff’s deputy in a hit-and-run was in the country illegally, it has emerged.
Deputy Michael Hartwick, 51, was killed instantly when a front-end loader plowed into him on Thursday evening.
Hartwick was standing on the hard shoulder of the I-275 when the vehicle driven by Juan Ariel Molina-Salles, 32, drove into him at 10:40pm in St Petersburg.
Molina-Salles, a Honduran construction worker, rang his friend Elieser Aureilio Gomez-Zelaya in tears and said what had happened.
Gomez-Zelaya then helped him, hiding his construction vest and helmet in the woods, and allowing Molina-Salles to run away.
Molina-Salles had previously been intercepted entering the US illegally across its southern border in October 2021, and sent back to Mexico.
But he had since been able to re-enter the United States unhindered at an unknown date, as President Biden faces mounting pressure over the historic numbers of people crossing the border illegally.
Deputy Michael Hartwick, 51, was killed in a hit-and-run on Thursday evening after a front-end loader driven by Juan Ariel Molina-Salles, 32, plowed into him
Construction workers walk from the scene in the westbound lanes of I-275 in St Petersburg, the morning after Hartwick was killed
Sheriffs are pictured on the scene on Thursday night
Hartwick was killed instantly at around 10:40pm on Thursday night
The front-end loader is seen abandoned on Friday morning, after Molina-Salles ran from the scene
A massive manhunt was launched, and Molina-Salles was eventually found nine hours later by bloodhounds employed by Pinellas County sheriffs.
Elieser Aureilio Gomez-Zelaya, also from Honduras and in the country illegally, has been charged with assisting with a crime
He was booked into the Pinellas County Jail on Friday and faces a charge of leaving the scene of a crash involving death, a first-degree felony that carries a maximum prison sentence of 30 years and a mandatory minimum of four years.
Gomez-Zelaya is facing a charge of being an accessory after the fact, a felony.
Bob Gualtieri, sheriff of Pinellas County, said that both men, born in Honduras, were in the United States illegally and working under assumed identities.
Molina-Salles crossed into Eagle Pass, Texas in October and was expelled to Mexico but then crossed again and found work in Florida.
Gualtieri said other workers at the scene also provided false names.
‘They were hindering the investigation, not giving us answers to the questions that we needed,’ said Gualtieri.
Hartwick’s colleagues salute as the procession passes by on Friday
Sheriffs lined the route as Hartwick’s funeral procession passed
Mourners lined the route of his final journey on Friday
Hartwick’s colleagues are seen carrying his flag-draped coffin
A memorial for Hartwick is pictured outside of Pinellas County Sheriffs Department
He said that Hartwick was a 19-year veteran of the sheriff’s department, the father of two adult sons, and praised him for his work ethic.
‘Mike was a good guy, a good cop,’ said Gualtieri.
‘He did his job.’
Hartwick’s colleagues paid tribute to him on Friday with a procession through the streets. A memorial has sprung up to the well-liked sheriff.