LUTZ, Fla. (WFLA) — The Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office is saying goodbye to one of their own who was killed in the line of duty.
Deputy Michael Hartwick was killed in a hit-and-run ten days ago when authorities said a worker ran into him in a construction zone on I-275.
Hartwick’s funeral was in Lutz at Idlewild Baptist Church. Hartwick wore his shining badge with pride. He was dedicated and committed to the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office.
“Michael was one of the good guys,” said Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri. “Someone who fought the evil among us and saved others from harm’s way and for that we are eternally grateful to Deputy Michael Hartwick.”
The 51-year-old deputy served the sheriff’s office for 19 years. As a patrol deputy and before that — a detention deputy.
Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said Juan Ariel Molina-Salles was operating a front-end loader with a forklift when he hit Hartwick who was watching over an I-275 construction site.
“Trying to figure out why this happened, why Michael was killed — I don’t have an answer and never will because there’s no understanding why avoidable acts like this happen and especially why they happen to good people,” Gualtieri said.
The sheriff’s office said Molina-Salles continued driving and left his uniform with another worker then ran. He was taken into custody after a 9-hour manhunt. Authorities said Molina-Salles is an undocumented immigrant who was using an alias.
The Florida Department of Transportation sent News Channel 8 this statement:
“The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) offers our heartfelt condolences to Deputy Hartwick’s family and the entire law enforcement community. From all accounts, Deputy Hartwick was a model law enforcement officer, and we stand willing and able to assist the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office in any way possible.
FDOT and its contractors follow strict hiring procedures. While it appears that these hiring procedures were followed, including a federal E-Verify clearance check, and the individuals in question passed this federal clearance, the Department is initiating an internal review on this project contract. FDOT will also continue to support law enforcement efforts as investigations continue.”
If Molina-Salles is found guilty, he faces up to 30 years in prison.
Hartwick leaves behind his mother and two sons — William and Brandon. Donations to Deputy Hartwick’s family can be sent to the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office.