LARGO, Fla. (WFLA) — Law enforcement officers honored one of their own at a memorial vehicle outside the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office Friday.

Deputy Michael Hartwick was killed late Thursday night when a highway construction worker driving a front-end loader hit Hartwick as the deputy kept watch over an I-275 construction site. Hartwick died instantly.

The man driving the equipment, identified by authorities as Juan Ariel Molina-Salles, fled the scene but was arrested after a nine-hour manhunt.

But for those in the Pinellas County community, Hartwick was more than another uniform in a marked car.

“When I saw the news today, I mean, I was just crushed and heartbroken,” David Miller said.

The Clearwater resident was driving along in October 2019 when he got a call from a friend in imminent danger. Miller rushed to his friend’s aid and saw a Pinellas County Sheriff’s vehicle in a church parking lot. It was Deputy Michael Hartwick. Miller explained the situation and Hartwick immediately sprang into action.

A memorial for Deputy Michael Hartwick. (WFLA Photo)

“There was all this screaming and shouting,” explained Miller. “He was so perfect, professional, explained all kinds of things about the law in detail.”

Miller said Hartwick rescued his friend from a difficult situation.

“He was my hero,” Miller said.

That vignette is just one of many community members are recalling as they reminisce on Hartwick’s life and career.

“He always had your back no matter what,” said Allen Norwich, from Tampa Bay Lodge No. 252. “He will be missed sorely by the brotherhood and by everybody that he touched.”

His colleagues miss him too.

“He was out doing his job last night and we thank him for his service,” said Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri. “It’s time for us to offer our respects to him and our thanks to him.”

Before David Miller and Hartwick parted ways that fateful night, they had a conversation. Miller said he was so emotionally and intent on looking Hartwick in the eyes he only briefly glanced down at Hartwick’s name tag.

After the conversation ended, Miller scribbled Hartwick’s name on the only surface he had available — an old shoebox. He still has that shoebox to this day.

“I’ve always thought the world of him for doing that,” Miller said.

Hartwick’s name is one Miller will never forget.

“How many other people have helped in a second’s notice?” Miller asked. “Just jumped in and saved people or helped people.”

Funeral arrangements are still in the planning stages with nothing officially announced yet. Deputy Hartwick leaves behind his mother and two adult sons.