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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


Twitter: @LauraCMorel

  1. Artist who wrapped Tarpon Springs home in foil brings his art to St. Petersburg museum


    Earlier this year, Polish artist Piotr Janowski decided to wrap his rental home and several trees in aluminum foil as part of his first outdoor art project.

    His Tarpon Springs neighbors, some of whom complained to the city, were not impressed.

    But St. Petersburg’s Museum of Fine Arts apparently was: Janowski is bringing his aluminum art to the museum’s grounds next month....

  2. Stolen taxi, drugs land Largo man in jail



    Police say Stolen taxi, tossed bag of drugs Land Largo man in jail

    Police arrested a 35-year-old man accused of driving a stolen taxi and tossing a bag of drugs out the passenger window during a traffic stop, according to arrest reports.

    Eugene Triplett's Nov. 15 encounter with police began on Myrtle Avenue after an officer observed him speeding in a taxi cab. Triplett stopped and tossed a brown bag out the passenger window. The officer picked it up and found a third of an ounce of marijuana and less than a 10th of an ounce of crack cocaine, reports state....

  3. Florida Supreme Court overturns death sentence of former Jabil executive


    Three years ago, Patrick A. Evans stood before a judge as he received his sentence for the 2008 murders of his wife and her friend: death.

    But Evans will now get a second chance.

    In an opinion released Thursday that cited errors in the testimony of a detective and a prosecutor's remarks during Evans' trial, the Florida Supreme Court overturned his first-degree murder convictions and death sentences....

    Murder defendant Patrick A. Evans says, “Sit on the bed,” at the request of his attorney after the 911 tape was played during his trial. A detective’s recognition of his voice was a key point.
  4. Man charged in hit-and-run deaths of Clearwater tourists released from jail


    The man recently charged in the hit-and-run deaths of two pedestrians was released from jail early Wednesday.

    Charles Winzenread, 45, had been held at the Pinellas County jail in lieu of $100,000 bail.

    Winzenread was arrested Tuesday after Clearwater police say he hit and killed Illinois tourists Viola Flores, 51, and John Berg, 62, as they crossed the Clearwater Memorial Causeway last month. Police said he fled shortly thereafter. ...

    From left, Clearwater Detective John Margnelli, Officer Bryan Karnes and Detective Thomas Dawe, far right, escort Charles Winzenread, second from right, out of his workplace at 26133 U.S. 19 on Tuesday afternoon. [Clearwater Police Department]
  5. Police blotter: Man accused of calling police after losing medicines



    Man accused of reporting a false crime to cover up losing his medications

    Christopher Ball, 31, called 911 on Oct. 29 to report that someone had broken into his house on Magnolia Drive and stolen his medications.

    Ten deputies and two police dogs responded. The dogs did not detect a "human scent" at the scene of the break-in, an arrest report states.

    "I confronted the defendant and he admitted to missing the medication earlier and he staged the crime scene," a deputy wrote....

  6. Clearwater police make arrest in hit-and-run that killed Illinois couple


    CLEARWATER — Detectives believe the Tampa man they arrested Tuesday in the hit-and-run deaths of Illinois tourists last month was drinking wine before the crash, police said.

    Charles Winzenread, 45, was arrested about 1:30 p.m. at 26133 U.S. 19 N, where he works. He faces a charge of leaving the scene of an accident involving death after Viola Flores and John Berg were hit on the Clearwater Memorial Causeway....

    John Berg, 62, a visitor from Illinois, was struck and killed Oct. 18 while trying to cross Clearwater Memorial Causeway. The vehicle’s driver left the scene. [Facebook] 
  7. Pinellas deputy finds that not everything stays in Vegas

    Public Safety

    What happens in Vegas doesn't always stay in Vegas.

    A Pinellas sheriff's detention deputy learned that last week when she was suspended for 120 hours after calling in sick while vacationing in Las Vegas.

    Deputy Jeanette Pettiford, 38, requested two vacation days in June. She went to Vegas, and on her third day there, called her supervisor and said she needed to take a sick day, records state....

  8. Sheriff: Pinellas deputy called in sick, was actually in Las Vegas


    What happens in Vegas doesn’t always stay in Vegas.
    A Pinellas Sheriff’s detention deputy learned that last week when she was suspended for 120 hours after calling in sick while vacationing in Las Vegas.
    Deputy Jeanette Pettiford, 38, requested two vacation days in June. She went to Vegas, and on her third day there, called her supervisor and said she needed to take a sick day, records state.
    But on that same day, Pettiford was the victim of an assault, Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said. When she returned to Pinellas, she received a subpoena to return to Vegas for the case. In an agency memo, Pettiford stated she was the witness to a crime in April, when she had previously visited Nevada.
    Investigators reviewed her memo and contacted police in Vegas. They discovered Pettiford was not a witness, but in fact a victim, and that the incident had happened on the day she claimed to be sick, Gualtieri said.
    “Her luck couldn’t be any worse,” the sheriff added.
    She eventually admitted to lying. Pettiford, who has been with the Sheriff’s Office for about eight years, began her unpaid suspension this month.
    “She came in and did the right thing and admitted what she had done and fully accepted the responsibility for her actions,” Gualtieri said. “This is a stupid thing, but they make it worse if they don’t tell the truth.”...

  9. Search warrant reveals more details in Clearwater fatal hit-and-run


    CLEARWATER — Of all the evidence that led detectives to the silver Mercedes G500 they believe fatally struck two tourists at Clearwater Beach, one of the most helpful clues was a specialty license plate.

    A search warrant obtained by the Tampa Bay Times on Thursday reveals details about the investigation that followed after Viola Flores, 51, and John Berg, 62, were hit about 8 p.m. Sunday as they tried to cross the westbound lanes of Clearwater Memorial Causeway. The driver did not stop. The Illinois couple were taken to Morton Plant Hospital, where they died....

    Viola Flores, 51, had been dating Mr. Berg for three years.
  10. Man accused of stealing fire extinguishers, spraying them in parking lot


    LARGO — A 48-year-old man was arrested Saturday on charges that he sprayed two fire extinguishers that did not belong to him in an apartment complex parking lot, an arrest report states.

    Officers saw the "white chemical residue" in the apartment complex parking lot of 2200 Gladys St., where two cars also were covered in the foam, according to a report. Donald Koma of Largo told police he sprayed the extinguishers in self-defense....

  11. Police find, seize Mercedes suspected in Clearwater hit-and-run that left two dead


    CLEARWATER — The search for a 2002 Mercedes G500 sport utility vehicle that police believe struck and killed two tourists as they walked across the Clearwater Memorial Causeway on Sunday ended on the other side of the bay.

    Detectives started staking out 10922 Lynn Lake Circle in northwestern Hillsborough County on Tuesday afternoon. Inside the garage sat the same kind of Mercedes police were looking for....

    An image taken from surveillance video shows the vehicle of interest in a hit-and-run crash that killed two pedestrians Sunday on Clearwater's Memorial Causeway.
  12. In worst pill mill case in Pinellas history, accused doctor serving as own counsel


    PINELLAS PARK — Thousands of patients visited the Dollar Medical Clinics, many from other parts of Florida or out of state, to get prescriptions from Dr. Jacinta Gillis.

    They came for methadone, oxycodone, and diazepam. And they almost always got them.

    "She handed out prescriptions like candy," said statewide prosecutor Kelly McKnight during Gillis' trial Wednesday. "They were coming in and out. There was no evaluation. There were no real exams. There was just script after script after script."...

    Dr. Jacinta Gillis is accused of illegally running pain medicine out of her two clinics, one in Pinellas Park and the other in Leehigh Acres in Lee County, in 2011.
  13. Trial begins for Pinellas Park doctor charged with running pill mills


    The trial of a doctor accused of running one of the largest pill mills in Pinellas County history begins this week.

    After the most comprehensive pill mill investigation in Sheriff's Office history, Dr. Jacinta Gillis was arrested in 2011 on charges of racketeering, conspiracy to commit racketeering, money laundering, and conspiracy to traffic controlled substances. The trial is expected to span about two weeks, Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Thane Covert said before Tuesday morning's jury selection began....

    Dr. Jacinta Gillis is accused of running one of the largest ever pill mills in Pinellas County.
  14. Police search for Mercedes-Benz SUV involved in fatal hit-and-run


    CLEARWATER — Viola Flores and John Berg of Illinois got on a plane Thursday and headed to Florida for a few days on Clearwater Beach.

    "With my honey," Flores wrote on Facebook, "on a little rendezvous."

    This past weekend, the couple had breakfast at the Hyatt Regency, danced to 1980s songs at Shephard's Beach Resort, visited Pier 60 and listened to music at the Clearwater Jazz Holiday, each stop memorialized on the social media site....

    A video-screen image shows the vehicle of interest in a hit-and-run crash that killed two pedestrians Sunday in Clearwater.
  15. Seventeen years later, man accused of fatally stabbing wife in Dunedin goes to trial


    LARGO — Prosecutors warned them about the crime scene photographs. So did judge Nancy Moate Ley.

    But Helene Ball McGee's family decided to remain Thursday as photos of her body, covered in stab wounds, were shown in court.

    It has been 17 years since Helene was found dead inside her Dunedin home on March 11, 1998, and her husband, Bobby McGee, was charged with her death. After years of receiving mental health treatment in state hospitals, a judge determined McGee, now 60, is fit to stand trial for first-degree murder....

    Bobby McGee, 60, 
was ruled fit to stand trial after years of mental health treatment.