UPDATE as of 4:02 pm, May 24, 2023: This article originally stated that the susupect’s immigration status was in question. However, it was revealed on Thursday that Mendez is an illegal immigrant from Guatemala and both the article and the headline have bee updated to reflect that fact.
The St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office has arrested a Vergilio Aguilar Mendez, 18, on a felony murder charge after an altercation led to the death of Sgt. Michael Kunovich. The Sheriff’s Office worked with Homeland Security to verify his identity and immigration status, and found that Mendex is an illegal immigrant from Guatemala. Mendez is currently being held without bail.
The St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office announced Sgt. Kunovish’s tragic death and described the series of events that led to it in a press release posted to the office’s Facebook page, saying:
On the evening of May 19, 2023, while on duty and assigned to the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office Central Region in St. Augustine, Sergeant Michael Kunovich made contact with a subject he observed sitting in the dark outside a closed business near the 2500 block of SR16. He attempted a pat down to check for weapons and the subject pulled away and attempted to flee. Additional deputies arrived and the subject continued to resist. While fighting on the ground, the subject attempted to grab Sergeant Kunovich’s Taser and continued to violently resist for approximately 6 minutes and 19 seconds. After he was handcuffed, the subject armed himself with a pocket knife, which was forcefully removed by deputies. Sergeant Kunovich collapsed moments after the subject was disarmed and relentless lifesaving measures were initiated by St. Johns County Fire Rescue and Flagler Health+ personnel. He was ultimately pronounced deceased shortly after transport to Flagler Hospital.
SISO Major Crimes Unit Detectives are actively investigating the incident and the subject has been tentatively identified as Vergilio Aguilar Mendez. He has been charged with Resisting with Violence and Felony Murder. Mendez is being held in the St. Johns County Jail on 50,000 Bond (Resisting with Violence) and No Bond (Felony Murder. Homeland Security Investigations is assisting with verification efforts regarding positive identification and immigration status.
“This has been a difficult time for our agency with the loss of one of our own. I want to thank St. Johns Fire Rescue, Flagler Health+, and our agency personnel for their lifesaving efforts on Sergeant Kunovich. I ask that you please respect the family and members of the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office as we mourn the loss of Sergeant Kunovich,” said Sheriff Robert Hardwick.
Sergeant Kunovich was a 25-year veteran of SJSO. Funeral arrangements will be announced soon.
Those funeral arrangements were then announced in a later press release posted to Facebook that also described Sgt. Kunovich’s career. In the statement, the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office said:
On the evening of May 19, 2023, while on duty with the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office, Sergeant Michael Kunovich died in the line of duty.
Sergeant Kunovich was a 25-year member of the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office and most recently served as a Sergeant in the Central Region. He worked in various capacities to include as a Reserve Deputy before coming on board full-time, a Senior Law Enforcement Deputy, a Senior Internal Affairs Detective, and a Patrol Shift Leader. Throughout his 25 years of service, he received numerous awards to include a Meritorious Service Award in 2003 and 2013, an Exceptional Service Award in 2010, and many letters of commendation. Sergeant Kunovich also served on the SWAT Team for 5 years and while serving, he earned his Bachelor’s Degree in Public Administration from Flagler College.
While Sergeant Kunovich took on the important role of serving and protecting our community for 25 years, his most important role was that of being a father to two amazing young men who were his whole world.
This was evident as his face would light up whenever he talked about them which was every chance he got.
“Sergeant Kunovich will be deeply missed by not only his immediate family and his family at the St.
Johns County Sheriff’s Office, but also by our community,” said Sheriff Robert Hardwick. “Sergeant Kunovich was a valued member of the St. Johns County Office who passionately dedicated his career to keeping our community safe
Sergeant Kunovich’s viewing will be on Thursday, May 25th from 5:00-7:00pm at Hardage Giddens located at 1285 St. Johns Parkway St. Johns, FL 32259. His funeral service will be on Friday, May 26″ at 10:00am at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church located at 11757 Old St. Augustine Road Jacksonville, FL 32258. A procession will commence to Oaklawn Cemetery located at 4801 San Jose Blvd. Jacksonville, FL 32207 immediately following the funeral service. A route will be released in the coming days so that those wishing to pay their respects roadside can do so.
On behalf of the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office, thank you to everyone who has reached out to offer their support and condolences. Please join us in continuing to lift up Sergeant Kunovich’s family, friends, and colleagues in your prayers as we all process this loss. We also ask that you please respect the family’s privacy during this time.
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