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. 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.
  2. 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. 
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. Police: Pinellas Trail murder suspect's story kept changing

    Crime

    CLEARWATER — A teenager accused of robbing and killing a 41-year-old woman along the Pinellas Trail last week told detectives a series of stories to explain why the victim's wallet turned up inside his home, according to court records released Wednesday.

    Before Dewayne Xavier Jones, 18, was arrested on a first-degree murder charge Tuesday, he was questioned by two detectives at Clearwater police headquarters Sunday night, a day after Lydia Ann Tross was found in a ditch north of Fairmont Street....

    Police have arrested Dewayne Jones, 18, of Clearwater in the death of a 41-year-old woman whose body was found Saturday (8.9.14)  in a ditch near the Pinellas Trail.
  6. Arrest made in death of woman found on Pinellas Trail

    Crime

    CLEARWATER — After a disagreement with her boyfriend, Lydia Ann Tross left their second-floor apartment on Highland Avenue and went for a walk.

    She never returned.

    Four days later, her body was discovered in a grassy ditch north of Fairmont Street near the Pinellas Trail, more than a mile from her home.

    Detectives determined that Tross, 41, was killed by a stranger as she walked alone on the trail. Dewayne Xavier Jones, 18, faces a first-degree murder charge in connection to her slaying, police announced Tuesday....

    Lydia Ann Tross was reported missing Aug. 5 and her body was found Saturday.
  7. Investigation continues into death of woman found on Pinellas Trail

    Crime

    CLEARWATER — Detectives were still investigating Monday the suspicious death of a 41-year-old woman whose body was found Saturday in a grassy ditch near the Pinellas Trail, police said.

    "The bottom line is we're still trying to piece together a time line," said Clearwater police spokesman Rob Shaw. "We are seeking to hear from any member of the public who may have come across her, whether it was at a convenience store, or on the trail, or just anywhere."...

    Lydia Ann Tross’ body was found decomposed near the Pinellas Trail.
  8. Pinellas sheriff: Two deputies accused of falsifying records

    Public Safety

    Two Pinellas County sheriff's deputies resigned Thursday amid allegations that they had falsified records related to two separate arrests, internal affairs records show.

    If Deputies Chad Earl and Jesse Munoz-Calene had not resigned, Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said Monday, he would have fired them.

    "My feelings about this with people who lie and engage in that kind of conduct is that they're done," he said. "They won't be working here — period."...

  9. Fourteen arrested in connection to Pinellas drug trafficking operation

    Crime

    Since the crackdown on prescription drugs dwindled the number of operating pill mills and overdose deaths in Pinellas County, authorities are now seeing a resurgence in an older, familiar drug: heroin.

    The number of heroin cases processed at the Pinellas County forensics lab doubled during the first six months of this year. The medical examiner's office has also reported three overdose deaths caused by heroin, compared with four reported all of last year....

    Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri details Operation White Pony on Monday at the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office headquarters in Largo. [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times]
  10. New Clearwater police chief took non-traditional path to law enforcement

    Public Safety

    CLEARWATER — Dan Slaughter dreamed of building planes, maybe even working for NASA. An aeronautical engineering major in college, he wanted to know how things worked.

    But when a close friend decided to join the police academy, Slaughter reconsidered his career path.

    "I didn't want a job where I was going to be in an office at a desk. I was interested in kind of being mobile, being active," he said. "I thrive at the phone ringing at 2 in the morning and kind of getting a complicated, chaotic problem on my plate."...

    Maj. Dan Slaughter, who will be sworn in as Clearwater's new police chief next week, attends a ribbon cutting on Thursday (7/31/14) for RCS's new domestic violence outreach center in Clearwater.
  11. Dan Slaughter chosen as Clearwater's new police chief

    Public Safety

    CLEARWATER — Last time Clearwater chose a new police chief, City Manager Bill Horne launched a national search, sifted through more than 100 applications and conducted about a dozen interviews in a span of roughly five months.

    This time around, Horne found the new chief among the Police Department's command staff within a week.

    Horne's announcement Tuesday that patrol operations Maj. Dan Slaughter would lead the department beginning next month was widely praised by city and police officials....

    Daniel Slaughter has been part of the Clearwater Police Department since October 1992. He is a graduate of Largo High School and the University of South Florida, and his most recent position in the department was major in charge of patrol operations.
  12. Sheriff's Office, Pinellas County 911 centers merge calls

    Public Safety

    LARGO — No glitches have been reported as the Pinellas Sheriff's Office and the county's 911 call center merged this week, in what Sheriff Bob Gualtieri calls a monumental improvement in public safety service.

    Before the switch, residents living within areas serviced by the Sheriff's Office who called 911 for police help would be connected to an operator, who would transfer their call to a Sheriff's Office dispatcher. The two-step process delayed response times....

  13. St. Petersburg's next police chief rose steadily through the Clearwater ranks

    Public Safety

    CLEARWATER — Police Chief Tony Holloway occasionally directs traffic at broken stop lights, tickets speeding drivers and he serves Thanksgiving dinner to families every year.

    Despite his rise through the ranks of the Clearwater Police Department over the last 29 years, Holloway has remained grounded to the community he serves.

    "A lot of chiefs and sheriffs, when they get upstairs, become very aloof. They are separated from the people down on the ground floor," said Clearwater Lt. Richard Harris. "Holloway? He talks to everybody."...

    Anthony Holloway at his swearing-in ceremony as Clearwater's police chief. At right is his wife, Andra Dreyfus. [JIM DAMASKE   |   Times (2010)]
  14. Influx of Clearwater Beach visitors leads to more crime, more police

    Crime

    CLEARWATER — It started as a routine traffic stop.

    Officers flagged a red Nissan Altima after it failed to brake at a stop sign near the Hyatt Regency hotel on Gulfview Boulevard. In the trunk, they found a stolen .38-caliber revolver. Police arrested a passenger in the car, 20-year-old Robert Smith Jr.

    Smith of Lakeland sat on the sidewalk in handcuffs while blue and red cruiser lights flashed around him and the small crowd of spectators....

    This stolen .38-caliber revolver was recovered by Clearwater police last weekend.
  15. Sixth-grader begins project to plant 1,000 trees in Largo (w/video)

    Human Interest

    LARGO — It started with a letter to the mayor.

    Riley Browne, 11, learned last school year about Wangari Muta Maathai, a Nobel Prize-winning environmental activist who helped plant millions of trees in Kenya.

    "She inspired me," Riley said. "I just thought it was a cool thing for her to do."

    Riley's goal: plant 1,000 trees in Largo.

    "With your help," she wrote to Mayor Pat Gerard, "I'd like to gather up volunteers throughout Largo to help get this accomplished."...

    Mark Browne helps daughter Riley Browne, right, plant a tree as Largo Mayor Pat Gerard, left, looks on Friday at Mildred Helms Elementary. Trees will be distributed in two or three giveaways. Residents who want trees will be able to register at largo.com, Gerard said.