Worker on front end loader hits, kills Florida deputy

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — A Florida sheriff’s deputy working an overnight shift to provide safety at a construction zone was struck and killed by a worker operating a front end loader, officials said.

Pinellas County Sheriff’s Deputy Michael Hartwick had started his shift shortly before the incident happened late Thursday on Interstate 275, Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said during a Friday morning news conference.

Victor Vazquez-Real, 35, fled the scene, but was arrested early Friday, Gualtieri said.

The sheriff said Hartwick had blocked the two inside southbound lanes of the interstate and was standing on the road’s shoulder when he was struck by the front end loader traveling at about 20 mph (32 kph). Hartwick died instantly, Gualtieri said

The construction worker continued driving for about one mile (1.6 kilometers) before stopping in a parking lot, the sheriff said. He then told another construction worker that he had killed a deputy. That worker took Vasquez-Real’s gear and hid it in a wooded area, the sheriff said.

The sheriff said Vazquez-Real will be charged with leaving the scene of an accident involving death. The other construction worker is being charged with accessory after the fact. It was not immediately known whether Vazquez-Real has a lawyer who can speak on his behalf.

Hartwick had been with the agency for 19 years.

“Mike was a good guy, a good cop,” Gualtieri said. “He did his job.”

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