TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Work on the Gateway Expressway Project has been halted after a construction worker killed a Pinellas County deputy while driving a front end loader, according to a release.
The Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office said Thursday night, Deputy Michael Hartwick was struck with a front end loader carrying a forklift operated by Juan Ariel Molina-Salles, 32, of Tampa, killing him instantly.
Deputies said Molina-Salles fled the scene of the crash and told another construction worker, 31-year-old Elieser Aurelio Gomez-Zelaya, he “just killed a deputy’ and had him hide his helmet and vest for him.
Gualtieri said both workers were working under fake names and were in the country illegally.
Deputies said after a nine-hour manhunt, Molina-Salles was arrested for leaving the scene of a crash involving death. Gomez-Zelaya was also charged with accessory after the fact for helping the suspect.
Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said both workers were working on the Gateway Expressway Project, which was supposed to be handled by contractor Archer Western – de Moya Joint Venture , also known as the “Joint Venture,” for the Florida Department of Transportation.
FDOT documents said the $595 million project began on Aug. 21, 2017, The project was meant to build two new elevated four-lane rolled roadways, SR-686A and SR-690, and two new toll lanes of I-275 south of the Howard Frankland Bridge.
SR-686A was to extend between Bayside Bridge and just west of I-275, with construction focused in the median of Roosevelt Boulevard. SR-690 was supposed to be constructed from US-19 to west of I-275.
Work on the project has been halted as a result of Hartwick’s death, according to a statement by the Joint Venture.
“Our deepest sympathy is extended to the family, friends, fellow law enforcement officers and co-workers of the deceased,” the statement reads. “Work has been halted on the project site while the Joint Venture continues its investigation into the circumstances and details of this tragic incident. The Joint Venture is fully cooperating and assisting with the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office investigation.”
However, the governor’s office issued a statement saying they would be looking into how the two foreign nationals ended up working on the project without being in the country legally.
We are currently investigating the matter and looking to determine if illegal immigrants have utilized fraudulent information to obtain employment with contractors working with the State of Florida. 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. If this individual’s illegal status played into his decision to try to cover up this incident, it underscores just one of the harms that our state faces because of the federal government’s open border 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 office of Gov. Ron DeSantis