Laura C. Morel, Times Staff Writer

Laura C. Morel

Laura covers public safety in north Pinellas. She joined the Tampa Bay Times in May 2012 as a breaking news reporter.

Born and raised in Miami, she previously covered crime and immigration at the Bradenton Herald and has completed internships at the Dallas Morning News, the Miami Herald and the Sun Sentinel.

Phone: (727) 445-4157

Email: lmorel@tampabay.com

Twitter: @LauraCMorel

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  1. Police: Clearwater wrestling coach accused of hitting students had a history of similar claims

    Crime

    After catching the student smoking a cigarette, Scott Stern told him he had three options.

    Stern could call his mother, or the boy could choose the hard way or the mental way, according to police records.

    On that morning in 1998, the Pinellas Park High student chose the mental way. He later told police Stern ordered him to strip naked, hold a ruler on his head, and called him an idiot, records state....

    Scott Stern, 45, coached at Clearwater Central Catholic High.
  2. Clearwater Central Catholic wrestling coach charged with hitting two students

    Crime

    CLEARWATER — A wrestling coach arrested Tuesday on charges that he hit two students after forcing them to strip naked was previously investigated for similar claims, the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office said.

    Scott Stern, who worked at Clearwater Central Catholic High School for 12 years, faces two counts of battery.

    Detectives believe there may be other victims.

    "It's sick stuff," said Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri. "There's all kinds of real heavy sexual overtones with this."...

    Scott Stern, 45, worked at Clearwater Central Catholic High.
  3. Largo shooter had complained about neighbor he fatally shot, Sheriff's Office says

    Crime

    LARGO — Nicholas Lowery had plans: He wanted to marry his girlfriend, get promoted and start a family.

    But on Monday morning, as he and his two roommates left the apartment on a cul-de-sac off Seminole Boulevard, next-door neighbor Thomas Malooly, 77, fired shots into the parking lot, killing Lowery.

    Malooly later killed himself inside his home, the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office said. No one else was hurt....

    Nicholas Lowery, 29, was killed by his neighbor, who then killed himself, Pinellas deputies say.
  4. Clearwater men accused in $200,000 counterfeiting scheme

    Crime

    CLEARWATER — They used glitter pens, eight printers, and creamy resume paper to concoct a sophisticated counterfeiting scheme that spanned from a Clearwater Beach apartment to a North Carolina hotel room, police said.

    Michael Scott Miller, 28, and Nicolas Secor, 20, are accused of producing nearly $200,000 in fake $100 bills and were arrested last month after an investigation involving several agencies, including the U.S. Secret Service....

    Michael Miller, 28, bailed Secor out of jail after his July arrest in Clearwater. The two men left the bay area afterward, according to authorities. [Bay News 9]
  5. Police: Thief stocking up on truck batteries

    Crime

    PINELLAS PARK — The batteries began disappearing in September from scrapyards, rental truck lots, tree-trimming businesses and moving companies.

    By the end of the month, more than 100 batteries from dozens of trucks were missing in the commercial area near 126th Avenue N and 49th Street, police said.

    "The amount of thefts and burglaries we were experiencing was becoming overwhelming," said Pinellas Park spokesman Sgt. Adam Geissenberger. "It was at that point that we decided to conduct surveillance."...

    Steven Weidner, 42
  6. Pinellas' top cops take turns patrolling the streets

    Public Safety

    The black Chevy Tahoe with flashing blue and red lights followed Jacqueline Ferrarini as she barreled south on 34th Street N at 75 mph.

    Despite the sirens and lights in her rearview mirror, Ferrarini, 47, kept driving the Chevy Camaro and only stopped when she entered a dead-end parking lot.

    The driver's door of the Tahoe opened and Sheriff Bob Gualtieri emerged. Other deputies soon arrived and arrested Ferrarini on several charges, including fleeing and eluding, and drug paraphernalia possession....

    Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri patrols 34th Street N in the Lealman area of St. Petersburg on a Saturday in late September.
  7. Undocumented workers reporting more wage theft cases to Clearwater police

    Crime

    CLEARWATER — They are roofers, landscapers and cleaners, but all told Hispanic outreach officer Raymond Croze the same story: Their bosses owed them pay.

    Within the past three months, the Clearwater Police Department has received nearly a dozen reports of undocumented workers accusing their employers of withholding wages ranging from $400 to $1,200.

    Hiring undocumented workers is illegal and punishable by fines of up to $16,000 per worker. But under federal labor laws, every employee, regardless of their immigration status, must be paid....

  8. One dead after gunshots, crash on Gulf-to-Bay in Clearwater

    Crime

    CLEARWATER — A man who died early Wednesday after shooting himself and crashing his car while fleeing Pinellas sheriff's deputies had tried to run from police in the past, authorities said.

    At least two other times in the past two years, James A. Smith sped away from Clearwater police. Officers first tried to stop Smith, 22, on Feb. 25, 2013, when he failed to brake at a stop sign. Smith sped away and drove in the center of Druid Road, a two-lane street, forcing some drivers to pull onto the shoulder to avoid being struck, police said....

    Accident investigators examine the scene of a crash Wednesday morning in the eastbound lanes of Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard near Bayview Avenue in Clearwater in which a Clearwater man died after a chase involving deputies.
  9. Critical report led to Belleair police chief's resignation

    Public Safety

    BELLEAIR — Police Chief Thomas Edwards resigned from the department this week after the release of a scalding report that details the deep divide between him and some of his officers.

    His resignation comes more than one year after Detective James Howard, the agency's union representative, met with Town Manager Micah Maxwell in July 2013 to express concerns about Edwards' leadership style, including officers being yelled at in public, favoritism, and failing to update the department's outdated policy manual....

    Belleair police Chief Thomas Edwards
  10. Family sues Brown Boxer Pub in patron's death

    Public Safety

    The family of a man killed outside the Brown Boxer Pub & Grille in Clearwater Beach is suing the restaurant.

    David McTamney, 51, was asked to leave the restaurant at 483 Mandalay Ave. on Oct. 14 for acting "intoxicated and disorderly," Clearwater police said last year.

    Moments later, Paul Clarence Stucker, who was working as a bouncer at the Brown Boxer, grabbed McTamney and dragged him to the exit, according to records. Once outside, Stucker got on top of McTamney and maintained him in a chokehold for several minutes, records say....

  11. Pinellas sheriff warns deputies after learning of racially charged Facebook posts

    Public Safety

    Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri has cautioned his deputies about what they share online after learning about a detective's racially charged Facebook posts.

    Gualtieri sent out an agencywide email after being told of Detective Thomas Swetokos' posts by a Tampa Bay Times reporter.

    "It has been noticed that some members are posting things on social media," he wrote, "using profanity and making statements that may be interpreted as derogatory or in some cases even discriminatory."...

    Sheriff Bob Gualtieri warned his staff after the racially charged posts came to light.
  12. Still hope for solving Pinellas Sheriff's Office's only unsolved double murder

    Crime

    CLEARWATER

    At first, Mark Smith called every few days.

    Days turned into weeks. Weeks turned into months. Months turned into years. The calls to the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office became fewer and seemed more fruitless.

    Today marks 25 years to the day that Smith's brother Gary and sister-in-law Sally were killed in their home. It is the Sheriff's Office's only unsolved double murder....

    Richard Gary and Sally Smith were murdered in their Clearwater home on Sept. 1, 1989. It is the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office’s only unsolved double homicide.
  13. Seminole triathlete loses leg after accident in Utah

    Human Interest

    ST. PETERSBURG — David Caras enjoys biking, swimming, and running triathlons. He cares for puppies for Southeastern Guide Dogs during the weekends and travels often for his job as an avionics instructor.

    But his active life came to a sudden halt Thursday when Caras of Seminole was struck by a sport utility vehicle while jogging during a business trip in Utah.

    He lost his right leg, fractured a hip and broke several ribs....

    David Caras, 51, cares for puppies for Southeastern Guide Dogs on weekends and travels often for his job as an avionics instructor. He lost his right leg, fractured a hip and broke several ribs when he was hit by an SUV in Utah last Thursday. He’s been involved with Southeastern Guide Dogs for the past six years. 
  14. Clearwater deputy chief resigns after four years with agency

    Public Safety

    CLEARWATER — Deputy Chief Sandra Wilson is resigning from the Clearwater Police Department.

    Wilson's resignation comes about a month after City Manager Bill Horne chose Dan Slaughter, previously the patrol major, as the agency's new chief when Tony Holloway left to lead the St. Petersburg Police Department.

    "It was more of a mutual thing. I wanted to kind of create my own staff," Slaughter said. "It's not a situation where there are any negative issues, or anything like that. … We discussed it and, ultimately, it was her decision."...

    When she was hired in 2010, Sandra Wilson became Clearwater’s first female deputy chief.
  15. Third inmate this year commits suicide in Pinellas County Jail

    Crime

    LARGO — Hours before he was scheduled to appear in court to face a sentence of up to 30 years in prison, Larry Kobielnik killed himself.

    Deputies found him hanging by a shoelace early Thursday in the shower of his single cell, Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said.

    Kobielnik is the third inmate to commit suicide in the Pinellas County Jail this year, the second to kill himself after being convicted....

    Larry Kobielnik, 38, hanged himself with a shoelace Thursday morning.