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Laura C. Morel, Times Staff Writer

Laura C. Morel

Laura covers law enforcement and courts in Pinellas County. She joined the Tampa Bay Times in May 2012.

Born and raised in Miami, she speaks Spanish and holds degrees from Miami Dade College and Emerson College in Boston.

Phone: (727) 893-8232


Twitter: @LauraCMorel

  1. Two men arrested in connection with baby formula heist at East Lake Walmart



    Two men arrested in connection to baby formula heist at East Lake Walmart

    Two men are accused of pilfering more than 100 cans of baby formula from a Walmart neighborhood market in the last few weeks, according to arrest reports.

    Surveillance video from the store at 3400 East Lake Road captured William Kelly, 65, and Purvis Sealy, 26, pushing carts containing the cans, worth $15.97 each, out to the parking lot. The thefts occurred in late March and throughout April....

  2. Pinellas commissioner visits site of crash where three teens died in a submerged car

    Public Safety

    The deaths of three teen girls killed inside a stolen car as it sank into the depths of a muddy pond March 31 hit close to home for Pinellas County Commissioner Ken Welch.

    Last August, three of his cousins were killed in a wreck in DeSoto County when a pickup struck their car as they returned to St. Petersburg from a religious convention in Fort Pierce.

    When the accusations against the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office escalated last week, with critics saying that deputies let the girls die and calling for an independent investigation, Welch decided to visit the pond Friday....

    Pinellas County Commissioner Ken Welch recorded a video of his visit to the crash site.
  3. In campaign Facebook page, candidate compares Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri to Hitler


    A candidate in the Pinellas Sheriff’s race recently launched a Facebook page against current Sheriff Bob Gualtieri that displays a photoshopped image of Gualtieri as Adolf Hitler.

    James McLynas, 57, of Indian Shores, wrote in the page that he is “running for Sheriff to protest Robert Gualtieri’s corruption.”...

    A photo in James McLynas' Facebook page shows a photoshopped image of Sheriff Bob Gualtieri as Hitler.
  4. Pinellas commissioner tries to wade into pond where three teens died in stolen car crash


    A lot of questions have surfaced in recent weeks about the way Pinellas Sheriff’s deputies responded when a stolen car sank into a cemetery pond March 31, killing three teenage girls inside.

    Critics have said that the deputies didn’t do enough to rescue the teens while Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri has maintained that the water conditions were not safe. A deputy wrote in a report related to the crash that they attempted a rescue, but noted there was “unstable ground” and “excessive water vegetation,” which made a rescue “too risky for those involved.”...

  5. Man guilty of killing St. Petersburg chef in hit and run sentenced to 30 years in prison


    LARGO — One of the first words Aaron Davis' 2-year-old daughter, Audrey, learned to say was "dada." Now, she wonders why he isn't home.

    A few days ago, she asked her mom, Ana Davis: "Are you on the phone with daddy?"

    On Monday, Ana stared across a courtroom at Jason Lanard Mitchell, the man who struck and killed her husband, a popular chef, last April as Mitchell sped while drunk across downtown St. Petersburg. Three days after the crash, Ana gave birth to the couple's second child....

    Jason Mitchell after taking the stand with Judge Michael Andrews on the bench during Mitchell's sentencing phase at the Pinellas County Court complex Monday morning (04/25/16). Mitchell, was speeding from police April last year when his rental car killed Kitchen St. Pete chef Aaron Davis who was going home after work. He could get 46 years in prison.
  6. Dash cam video of stolen car crash that killed three girls raises questions on social media regarding Pinellas Sheriff's Office actions (w/video)

    Public Safety

    A portion of a dash cam video from the March 31 crash that killed three teenage girls who were in a stolen car as it sank into a pond circulated on social media Friday, prompting questions about whether Pinellas Sheriff's deputies did enough to rescue them.

    Earlier this week, the Sheriff's Office released its investigation report and several dash cam videos from the crash....

    Laniya Miller, 15, from left, Ashaunti Butler, 15, and Dominique Battle, 16, drowned when the car they were riding in sank into a pond off Gandy Boulevard. [Pinellas County Sheriff's Office]
  7. Pinellas Sheriff's Office is using a tool that can turn your phone into a tracking device

    Public Safety

    James McLynas was driving his Ford Explorer across the Howard Frankland Bridge on Oct. 30, 2013, when he noticed a pickup truck behind him. As he pulled into a transmission shop in St. Petersburg, several other cars swarmed the parking lot. Plainclothes Pinellas sheriff's deputies approached him.

    "I hadn't even gotten my car fully stopped when I was surrounded," he said.

    McLynas, 57, was arrested on several felony charges, including battery, title fraud and grand theft motor vehicle. Months later, records filed in his case didn't explain how deputies found him....

    The Sting Ray ll made by the Harris Corp. is used by some law enforcement agencies to track suspects via cellphone activity.
  8. Pinellas deputies: 911 call about an armed man was actually toy squirt gun


    ST. PETERSBURG — Pinellas sheriff's deputies responded April 12 about a trespass warning at Jose Vanegas' house, but the call turned out to be "civil in nature," according to arrest reports.

    While one of the deputies was still at the unincorporated St. Petersburg house at 5450 35th Way N, Vanegas called 911 and said "the other party to the initial complaint" was armed with a gun. Several deputies responded to the house, but no weapons were found....

  9. Family of Dover homicide victims grappling with their loss


    DOVER — As the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office continued to investigate the deaths of John and Nancy Engelhart over the weekend, family members struggled to understand how the couple could have been murdered.

    "I'm twisted up really hard over all of this, and there's no making sense of it," said Albert Engelhart of Tampa. "My brother and his wife were very, very special people and they devoted their lives to making life better for other people. "...

    Deputies say Nancy and John Engelharts' bodies were found in the shed, left, a few steps away from their house in Dover. [TONY MARRERO | Times]
  10. Clearwater man seeking death penalty disrupts hearing with outbursts


    Craig Wall's case has taken several twists and turns in the past six years.

    He represents himself on the charges that he killed his girlfriend and their infant son. He has repeatedly said he wants the death penalty.

    The latest twist happened Thursday: After he refused to leave his jail cell to attend a hearing, six Pinellas sheriff's deputies in tactical gear ushered Wall to Pinellas Circuit Judge Philip Federico's courtroom....

    Craig Wall, who pleaded guilty in February 2015 to killing girlfriend Laura Taft and no contest to killing their son, had to be escorted, in shackles and handcuffs, to his sentencing hearing Thursday.
  11. Audio recordings reveal new details of pond crash that killed three teens

    Public Safety

    Pinellas County sheriff's cruisers, police dogs and a helicopter converged on the pond as the Honda Accord slowly sank in the muddy depths.

    The helicopter hovered high above the pond, pointing a spotlight into the dark muck.

    "The car is bobbin' around. They're trying to crawl out," a deputy on the ground said. "Looks like someone at a window. I see a foot coming out."

    Moments later, he radioed the pilot: "Can you see anyone swimming away? What do you see?"...

    Laniya Miller [Courtesy of the Miller Family]
  12. Three teenage girls dead after stolen car plunges into St. Petersburg pond

    Public Safety

    ST. PETERSBURG — Three teenage girls asked a stranger for a ride to Childs Park.

    But before they were dropped off, the driver stopped at a Walmart at 22nd Street S. He stepped out, leaving the gold Honda Accord running.

    Moments later, the girls and the car were gone.

    "Who tryna get seen & wheels?" posted Dominique Battle, 16, on Facebook at 8:48 p.m. Wednesday.

    Seven hours later, the Honda rolled into a pond inside a cemetery off Gandy Boulevard. The car sank within five minutes....

    From left to right, Dominique Battle, 16, Ashaunti Butler, 15, and Laniya D. Miller, 15 were identified as the individuals in the stolen car. [Photo courtesy of the Pinellas County Sheriff's Department]
  13. A year later, cause of fatal Tarpon Springs explosion remains a mystery

    Public Safety

    Nearly a year after an explosion erupted at a fuel facility in Tarpon Springs, officials have not determined what caused a gas cylinder to rupture and kill an employee.

    The state fire marshal's office closed its investigation into the MagneGas Corp. explosion earlier this year, concluding it was an accident, but the agency couldn't identify the cause. Although the Occupational Safety and Health Administration cited MagneGas for several violations, records show they were unrelated to the blast....

    Rescuers prepare a man injured in an explosion at the MagneGas plant for transport to Tampa General Hospital on April 16, 2015. Employee Michael Sheppard was killed in the blast.
  14. Former Pinellas deputy arrested on aggravated assault in road rage


    A former Pinellas deputy was arrested Wednesday on a charge that she pointed a gun during a road rage incident in Palm Harbor last month.

    Sheila Langlais, 46, was booked into the Pinellas County jail Wednesday, but was released the same afternoon on $5,000 bail.

    On Feb. 7, Langlais, who was off duty and in her personal vehicle, had just pulled into the Twin Lakes apartments along U.S. 19 N in Palm Harbor to visit another off-duty deputy. She got into a traffic-related incident with Brett Dowd and his girlfriend, Brittany Byrne, as they tried to park their car. A baby was inside....

    Sheila Langlais, a former Pinellas deputy, was arrested on a charge of aggravated assault. [Pinellas County Jail photo] 
  15. Pinellas deputies say woman tried to use synthetic urine during drug test



    Pinellas deputies say woman tried to use synthetic urine during drug test

    A 23-year-old woman was arrested on charges that she tried to pass a drug test at Pinellas County's misdemeanor probation office by using synthetic urine, an arrest report states.

    During the test, Haley Fretto of Tampa smuggled the fake urine into the restroom, but left some evidence behind. After her arrest, Fretto told deputies she was worried she would test positive for marijuana and cocaine, the report says....