Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Killed in the Line of Duty

PINELLAS COUNTY – Detectives assigned to the Robbery/Homicide Unit are investigating a deputy-involved crash that resulted in the death of Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Michael Hartwick.

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On September 23, 2022, detectives say Deputy Hartwick arrived to his traffic detail at approximately 10:40 p.m., located near Exit 30 on southbound I-275. Deputy Hartwick was assigned to assist the construction crew and provide safety for them during their overnight roadwork on the interstate. He parked his cruiser facing south in the southbound lanes of I-275, with his emergency equipment on. Moments later, Deputy Hartwick exited his cruiser, walked to the shoulder of the road and stood facing north.

Detectives learned a large front loader with forklifts, used to move concrete barriers, was traveling northbound. The construction worker driving the vehicle, later identified as 32-year-old Juan Ariel Molina, struck Deputy Hartwick. Deputy Hartwick was pronounced deceased at the scene.

According to detectives, Molina continued to drive north for a quarter of a mile before coming to a stop. Detectives say Molina told another construction worker that he “just killed a deputy,” gave his construction helmet and vest to him, and then Molina fled the scene on foot. The co-worker, later identified as 31-year-old Elieser Aureilio Gomez-Zelaya, hid the helmet and vest in a wooded area to the west of the scene.

After a nine hour manhunt conducted by local law enforcement agencies, PCSO K9 and our flight unit, Molina was located by the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office bloodhound hiding in a  brush area. He was taken into custody and charged with one count leaving the scene of a crash involving death.

Gomez-Zelaya was charged with one count of accessory after the fact. Both were transported to the Pinellas County Jail.

Deputy Hartwick served as a Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office Deputy for 19 years, assigned to the Patrol Operations Bureau. He is survived by his mother and two adult children.

The investigation continues.

The full press conference can be found here:

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