Illegal Immigrant from Honduras Kills Deputy Sheriff in Florida

An illegal immigrant from Honduras, 32-year-old Juan Ariel Molina-Salles, has been charged with killing Pinellas County sheriff’s deputy Michael Hartwick and fleeing the scene. Molina-Salles was employed by Archer Western Construction as a front-loader driver at a construction site on Interstate 275 in Tampa, Florida, Fox News reports.

Hartwick was working a night shift and providing safety at the construction site when Molina-Salles hit him with the front loader. He was said to have been driving at about 20 mph (32 kph) and upon realizing that he had hit the deputy sheriff who was standing beside the road, Molina-Salles still drove on for about one mile before stopping the vehicle.

According to Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, Molina-Salles confided in another construction worker, Elieswer Gomez-Zelaya, that he had just accidentally killed the deputy sheriff. He removed his construction hat and traffic vest and gave them to Gomez-Zelaya who hid them in the woods. Molina-Salles fled but was later tracked with the help of bloodhounds.

He will be charged with leaving the scene of an accident after causing death – and faces a minimum of four years in prison. Gomez-Zelaya is being charged with being an accessory after the fact.

Sheriff Gualtieri said Molina-Salles initially lied about his real name when arrested, lying that his name was Victor Vazquez-Real and that he was from Puerto Rico. He ultimately confessed that he entered the United States illegally through Eagle Pass in Texas in October 2021 and was sent back to Mexico by Border Patrol. He said he re-entered the US in March through the Tampa Area.

Gualtieri most of the workers at the construction lied about their identity and did not cooperate with police investigations.

“There is no record of him ever legally coming back into the United States, and he was here illegally,” Gualtieri told reporters. “They (other construction workers) were hindering the investigation, not giving us answers to the questions we needed. He didn’t have a driver’s license. He’s got nothing. He shouldn’t have been here, to begin with, and he shouldn’t have been driving. He shouldn’t have been working…he has no qualifications to drive a front loader.”

Gualtieri referred the case to the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement since they have powers over immigration matters. The company that hired Molina-Salles would not respond to phone calls seeking comment. The office of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said it is carrying out investigations into whether undocumented immigrants are working illegally in the state.

“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 office of the governor said. “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.”