Fla. deputy killed in hit-and-run; suspect in custody after manhunt
Michael Hartwick was working traffic detail for road construction crews overnight at the time of the incident
Duty Death: Michael Hartwick - [St. Petersburg, Florida]
End of Service: 09/22/2022
By Michaela Mulligan
Tampa Bay Times
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — A construction worker hit and killed a deputy on Interstate 275 Thursday night and then ran away, sparking a massive manhunt that ended Friday morning when he was taken into custody, according to the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office.
Victor Vazquez-Real, 35, was captured by 8:40 a.m. and was expected to be charged in connection to the death of Deputy Michael Hartwick, 51, deputies said.
The crash happened near Roosevelt Boulevard after Hartwick started his shift about 10:30 p.m. Thursday, Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said at a news conference Friday morning.
Hartwick was working a traffic detail to provide safety for road construction crews who were working on I-275 overnight, Gualtieri said. Hartwick blocked the two inside southbound lanes of the interstate, got out of his patrol cruiser and was standing on the shoulder facing north when a Vazquez-Real, who was operating a front-end loader, struck him, Gualtieri said.
The forklift was moving about 20 mph when it hit Hartwick, killing him instantly, Gualtieri said.
Vazquez-Real continued for about a mile after hitting the deputy and stopped in a parking lot and told another construction worker that he had killed a deputy, according to the sheriff. The construction worker took Vazquez-Real’s construction gear and hid it in a wooded area. Vazquez-Real took off running, Gualtieri said.
Law enforcement across the area spent Friday morning searching for Vazquez-Real. Just a few hours after Gualtieri spoke to media, the Sheriff’s Office announced he’d been taken into custody. No other details about where he was located and other circumstances of his capture were immediately released.
Gualtieri said at the news conference that Vazquez-Real will be charged with leaving the scene of an accident involving death. The man who helped Vazquez-Real hide his gear is being charged with accessory after the fact, Gualtieri said.
Vazquez-Real’s last known address is in Tampa, Gualtieri said. The Sheriff’s Office is not aware of any prior convictions.
Authorities initially closed I-275 in both directions, diverting southbound traffic onto Ulmerton Road and northbound traffic onto Gandy Boulevard.
The northbound lanes were reopened by 10 a.m., according to Spectrum Bay News 9. The southbound lanes remained closed.
The northbound I-275 entrance at Roosevelt Boulevard was also closed, a release said. Southbound traffic onto I-275 at Roosevelt Boulevard remained open. Eastbound and westbound lanes of Roosevelt were also open, the release said.
“All I can say is, here we go again,” Gualtieri said. “This is 18 months after Deputy Magli was killed. Now we go 110 years in the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office without any line of duty deaths, and now we have two in 18 months.”
Deputy Michael J. Magli, 30, was killed in the line of duty of Feb. 17, 2021. The 30-year-old deputy, husband and father of two, was killed attempting to stop a drunken driver fleeing from other deputies.
Robert Allen Holzaepfel, 35, was sentenced this month to 35 years in prison after he pleaded guilty to third-degree murder, DUI manslaughter and a felony charge of driving while his license was suspended or revoked.
Hartwick was a deputy with the Sherriff’s Office for 19 years, Gualtieri said.
“Mike was a good guy, a good cop,” Gualtieri said. “He did his job.”
Hartwick has two adult sons who were notified of Hartwick’s death along with his mother, Gualtieri said.
This is a developing story. Stay with tampabay.com for updates.