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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. Witness recounts Tarpon Springs officer shooting

    Crime

    TARPON SPRINGS — Evelyn Desiree Santiago knew Marco Antonio Parilla Jr. was on probation, that he was once in prison.

    But she didn't know he had a gun until Parilla walked toward her with his head down in the parking lot of a Tarpon Springs apartment complex early Sunday morning. When he looked up, Santiago turned around to see what Parilla was staring at and saw Officer Charles Kondek holding a gun....

    Evelyn Desiree Santiago said that she ran scared after the shooting.
  2. Family of slain Tarpon Springs officer expresses devastation

    Crime

    TARPON SPRINGS — Christmas was Officer Charles Kondek's favorite time of year. Now, his wife and six children must face the first holiday without him.

    Pasco County Clerk Paula O'Neil read the family's first public statement Monday since Kondek was shot dead while on duty early Sunday.

    "Charlie was a loving husband and devoted father," the statement reads. "As a law enforcement officer, he served with compassion and worked hard to keep our community safe. We are shocked and devastated by this tragedy that has taken Charlie away from us."...

    Officer Charles Kondek [Tarpon Springs Police Department]
  3. Slain Tarpon Springs officer remembered as good cop, family man

    Crime

    TARPON SPRINGS — By day, "Charlie K" was a good dad. By night, he was known as a good cop.

    Tarpon Springs police Officer Charles Kondek worked the midnight shift so that he could watch his 15-year-old daughter Aleena's soccer practices and travel around with her wherever she played.

    Kondek, 45, was a family man, and she was his youngest child. She had just gotten her learner's permit and her father was teaching her how to drive....

    Tarpon Springs Police Department is saddened to announce the loss of Officer Charles Kondek. Ofc. Konek served the City of Tarpon Springs as a sworn law enforcement officer for over 17 years, many of which were on the midnight shift. Originally from New York, he had previously served for over 5 years as a NYPD officer before moving to Florida. 
Ofc. Kondek, who was 45 years of age, responded to a call for service shortly after 2:00 am on 12/21/14. While at the incident location, at 199 Grand Blvd., Ofc. Kondek was killed in the line of duty. TSPD officers and members of the Tarpon Springs Fire Rescue, who were summoned to assist, attended to Ofc. Kondek on-scene. He was transported to Florida Hospital North Pinellas, where he succumbed to his injuries.
The Pinellas County SheriffÕs Office and the Tarpon Springs Police Department will be investigating this tragic event. Additional information will be released at a later time.
  4. Suspect charged in Tarpon Springs police officer's slaying (w/video)

    Crime

    TARPON SPRINGS — It was a routine call, a car stereo blaring at 2 a.m. Sunday.

    Officer Charles Kondek, a veteran of the overnight shift, was the first to respond to the small apartment building in Tarpon Springs.

    Moments later, he lay dying in the parking lot, shot in the chest and run over as the suspect sped away.

    The shooter, Marco Antonio Parilla Jr., was caught after a short car chase, investigators said. The 23-year-old with an extensive criminal record including 30 felony charges was wanted for violating probation and told investigators he didn't want to go back to prison. He faces a first-degree murder charge....

    Keith Baldwin embraces Kimberly Baldwin, 11, of Tarpon Springs Sunday outside the Tarpon Springs police station. Residents left bouquets at a memorial for Tarpon Springs police Officer Charles Kondek, 45, who was shot to death in the line of duty around 2 a.m. Sunday. He was the first Tarpon officer slain since 1926.
  5. Two other unsolved hit-and-runs from a deadly holiday season

    Crime

    In 2004 during the holidays, several other families lost loved ones in hit-and-run crashes that remain unsolved.

    Among the dead is Victoria D'Addio, a 5-year-old Connecticut girl who was crossing Gulf Boulevard in St. Pete Beach with her mother when a white mid-sized sedan fatally struck her on Nov. 23, just two days before Thanksgiving.

    "I need somebody to come forward so I can feel closure on my end because somebody out there killed my little girl," her mother, Anne D'Addio, told the St. Petersburg Times at the time. "I need to know that person has been found. I want my baby back."...

    Family photographs show Ralph Kemmerer and his three children. He was killed 10 years ago by a hit-and-run driver on Ulmerton Road in Largo.  The driver was never found.
  6. Ten years later, unsolved fatal crash still hurts family

    Crime

    LARGO — Every Christmas Eve, Kim Palfy reads her only daughter's favorite book, The Polar Express, and eats the sugar cookies she loved to bake.

    She takes out Jacquelyn Palfy's presents, but her daughter has never opened her gifts. They were wrapped 10 years ago, just days before she died at age 20 on Dec. 19, 2004, during a road rage crash on Missouri Avenue.

    The driver sped away and police never found him, but Jacquelyn's mother finds comfort in remembering her daughter's life: the little girl who took her rag doll to slumber parties, the teenager who played on a boys soccer team, the young woman who longed to be a wife and a mom....

    Jacquelyn Palfy’s mother, Kim, treasures photos of her daughter and other memorabilia that she keeps in a chest in her bedroom.
  7. Man who shot woman in Largo murder-suicide had previously been charged with trying to kill her

    Crime

    LARGO — Helping people was Rochelle Tatrai's job. The CEO of a nonprofit with 600 employees, she advocated for children in broken families, the mentally handicapped, and most recently unaccompanied youngsters who crossed the U.S.-Mexico border.

    But Tatrai also needed help. She was shot dead Thursday by the same man who police said beat her with a metal baseball bat and threatened to kill her 12 years ago....

    Rochelle Tatrai refused to testify against her partner, Sean Ray, in court.
  8. 16-year-old finds parents shot dead in Largo home (w/video)

    Crime

    LARGO — A 16-year-old girl arrived home Thursday afternoon to find the bodies of her parents, who died in what police are calling a murder-suicide.

    About 2:30 p.m., she arrived at 13156 Thoroughbred Loop and discovered Rochelle Tatrai and Sean Ray, both 46, dead of apparent gunshot wounds, Largo police said. She went outside and flagged down a utility worker, who called 911.

    Tatrai was the president and CEO of Gulf Coast Jewish Family and Community Services, recently in the news as it sought to expand a Pasco County shelter to accommodate young immigrant boys fleeing violence in South and Central America....

    Rochelle Tatrai was president of Gulf Coast Jewish Family and Community Services.
  9. Thousands get warnings, tickets during four-week Pinellas pedestrian safety initiative

    Accidents

    Deputies throughout Florida handed out more than 15,000 warnings and 7,000 tickets during a four-week operation focusing on pedestrian safety.

    Organized by the Florida Sheriffs Association, operation Safe Steps involved 18 sheriff's offices and aimed at reducing the uptick in pedestrian-related crashes throughout the state.

    From 2011 to 2013, nearly 1,500 died and 18,000 others were injured in 25,900 pedestrian crashes, Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said during a news conference Monday....

  10. Teen sentenced to 15 years in connection to 2012 slaying

    Crime

    ST. PETERSBURG — Christine Mayers dreamed of her dead son the night before a teen girl involved in his slaying faced her prison sentence.

    In court Friday, she described how Jeremy Mayers, glowing and dressed in white, hugged her and told her everything would be okay.

    Mayers, surrounded by family, watched as circuit judge Joseph Bulone ordered Brittany Detwiler, who previously pleaded guilty to second-degree murder, to serve 15 years in prison....

    Brittany Detwiler, left, listens during her sentencing for second-degree murder Friday at the Pinellas Justice Center.
  11. Good Samaritans save dog from Largo lake

    Human Interest

    LARGO — Monica Fowler is a regular at Taylor Park, where she walks or takes photos of wildlife a few times a week. But Wednesday morning, Fowler spotted something hanging from a pipe near the 53-acre lake's seawall.

    It was a white bulldog mix, its paws clinging to the pipe, the rest of its body submerged in murky water.

    She saw a car heading her way and flagged it down.

    "He could have just not even stopped when I was waving at him," said Fowler, a retired geologist. "He doesn't know who I am or what's going on."...

    This bulldog mix, which its owner said had escaped after being let out of the house into the yard, was spotted clinging to a pipe in the lake at Taylor Park in Largo on Wednesday morning.
  12. Quincy the dog sniffs out arson for firefighters

    Fire

    CLEARWATER — Steven Raynard Jones walked away from the apartment he shared with his wife as flames inside killed her two cats.

    Hours later, Pinellas sheriff's deputies located Jones, 45, at the El Rio Motel off Fourth Street N in St. Petersburg. He denied setting fire to his home in the unincorporated Clearwater area, but Quincy was not fooled, police records show.

    The 8-year-old Labrador mix with big floppy ears and bright brown eyes sniffed Jones' clothes and sat down, indicating he'd detected fuel....

    Quincy, Pinellas County’s only arson dog, visits with Clearwater fire inspector Ron Neuberger at Clearwater Fire Station No. 45. 
  13. Clearwater police ask for public's help on fatal hit-and-run

    Crime

    CLEARWATER — Police are still searching for the driver of a dark-colored SUV that struck and killed a 22-year-old motorcyclist on Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard last month.

    Detectives have one witness and one video surveillance tape. They've checked with dealerships in Clearwater, and soon in Dunedin, for any SUVs coming in for crash repairs, said Sgt. Michael Walek, who oversees the traffic homicide investigators....

    Maralyn Gilbert with grandson Martin Jay Baltimore, who was killed in the accident. Officers are handing out fliers of the SUV.
  14. Report reveals power outage causes, other problems at Pinellas 911 center

    Public Safety

    LARGO — Inadequate surge protection, faulty grounding and baby ospreys are to blame for an outage of Pinellas County's 911 system for 45 minutes this summer, according to a report released Tuesday.

    The analysis, conducted by the county and released in draft form, also details the causes of other problems at the new 911 center, including reports of busy signals and a partial power loss earlier this month....

  15. Smugglers get creative with contraband at Pinellas County jail

    Crime

    LARGO — During Sgt. Ron Wehr's first week on duty at the Pinellas County jail, an inmate provided this tip: Contraband was being smuggled in by a nylon cord.

    Skeptical, Wehr scanned the outside of the jail one July morning in 2013. He glanced toward the flag pole near the public lobby and saw a thin line on the wall. Detectives yanked on the cord and a grocery bag containing marijuana, cigarettes, chewing tobacco, and lighters tumbled down....

    Inmates in the sixth-floor recreation room at the jail were pulling up contraband by a nylon cord.