A sheriff’s deputy monitoring traffic along an interstate construction site was struck and killed by a member of the highway crew, according to the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office.
The suspect fled and remained at large early Friday morning, Sept. 23, sheriff’s officials said.
It happened around 10:45 pm on Thursday, September 23, on Interstate 275 in St. Petersburg. Sheriff Bob Gualtieri he said at a press conference shared by station WFTS.
The victim was identified as a 51-year-old Pinellas County Sheriff. MP Michael Hartwick, who has been with the department 19 years, Gualtieri said.
Hartwick started his shift at 10:30 pm and was standing on the shoulder of Interstate 275 when a crew member driving a front-end loader “struck Officer Hartwick and killed him instantly,” Gualtieri said.
The driver, Victor Vazquez, continued northbound “for about a quarter of a mile, stopped the front-end loader in a parking area, got out, told another construction worker he had just killed an officer, and took off his helmet. , took off his vest and started running,” Gualtieri said.
The other construction worker hid Vazquez’s helmet and vest in a wooded area, authorities said.
Investigators suspect that Vázquez is still on foot as he tries to evade capture. He faces one charge of leaving the scene of an accident involving death (a second-degree felony), authorities said. His last known address was in Tampa.
The worker who hid the helmet and vest was arrested and charged with being an accessory after the fact, authorities said. His identity was not revealed.
Gualtieri noted that it was the second time in 18 months that one of the department’s agents had been killed in the line of duty.
“Deputy Hartwick was doing what police officers do every day. He was out doing his job. He was at his assigned post,” Gualtieri said.
“He was trying to protect the scene for the construction workers and ironically one of the construction workers hit him.”