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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. Clearwater man shot in 12-hour standoff has long history with police

    Crime

    CLEARWATER — The man who fired a gun at officers while barricaded inside his bedroom for 12 hours this week had been placed into custody under the state's Baker Act during a similar police call nearly a year ago, records show.

    Frederick Nelson, 43, brandished a stolen .38-caliber handgun Wednesday at 1524 Carroll St. Two officers fired, hitting Nelson more than once. He was taken to Bayfront Health St. Petersburg, where he remained Thursday in serious but stable condition....

  2. St. Petersburg man demands officers take him to jail

    Crime

    ST. PETERSBURG — Officers were dispatched to 4510 19th Ave. S last week when Jeremie Robinson yelled he wanted to go to jail, according to arrest reports.

    Police told him to quiet down. Instead, Robinson, 34, lay down in the middle of the road and "continued to yell and curse for the officers to take him to jail," a report reads.

    Robinson got his wish and was jailed on a charge of disorderly intoxication....

  3. Man shot as gunfire exchange ends standoff in Clearwater

    Crime

    CLEARWATER — After a 12-hour standoff, SWAT team members shot and removed an armed man with a history of mental illness from his bedroom Wednesday after he barricaded himself inside, police said.

    Frederick Nelson, 43, was hit by more than one gunshot, Clearwater police Chief Dan Slaughter said. He was taken to Bayfront Health St. Petersburg, and his condition was not available.

    Police received reports about 6:30 a.m. that Nelson threatened relatives with a handgun and shot toward one of them at 1524 Carroll St....

  4. Small arsenal found in home of Tarpon Springs backyard bombing suspect

    Crime

    TARPON SPRINGS — An 85-year-old man named as a suspect in an explosion that damaged his next-door neighbor's back yard Monday was keeping an arsenal of weapons — including functional grenades and mines — in his garage, police said.

    "This is extremely concerning," said Tarpon Springs Police Chief Robert Kochen in a news conference Tuesday. "We don't even know what he was capable of. We're still conducting the investigation. We have a lot of agencies involved."...

    William Vincent Metz, 85, was charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm.
  5. Police investigating suspicious explosion in backyard of Tarpon Springs home

    Crime

    TARPON SPRINGS — The person of interest in what authorities say was a targeted explosion in a home's back yard early Monday had called police twice to complain about his next-door neighbors at 1016 Stonefence Way.

    William Vincent Metz, 85, contacted the Tarpon Springs Police Department on Dec. 24 to report that someone was entering his backyard and trying to peek through his windows. A responding officer didn't see anyone outside, police said. Metz also called in February to report that religious music was playing on a loop, but an officer didn't hear anything....

    Tarpon Springs Police Detective Derek Anderson stands at 1014 Stonefence Way. See tampabay.com/video for more.
  6. Lightning strike claims life of former U.S. diplomat living in Largo, authorities say

    Public Safety

    LARGO — Jay Freres traveled the world as a U.S. diplomat, serving in some dangerous corners of the globe before retiring to Florida with his wife.

    On Friday morning, the 81-year-old U.S. Army veteran died steps from his home when a bolt of lightning struck him as he strolled alone on Egret Drive, Largo police said.

    Friends and family were left to grapple with the shock of the sudden — and statistically rare — way that the friendly, deeply religious man died. Mr. Freres was the eighth person to be killed in the United States by a lightning strike this year, according to the National Weather Service. ...

    Jay Freres, 81, is the second lightning fatality in the state in 2015.
  7. Pinellas Sheriff's Office seeking witnesses in 2001 unsolved murder (w/video)

    Crime

    LARGO — Detectives say they know who robbed and killed Marco Waters. The problem: they don't have enough evidence to prove it.

    In a news conference Friday, Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri and Waters' family asked for witnesses in the 14-year-old cold case to come forward.

    "We know that there are people out there that have firsthand knowledge," Gualtieri said. "While people are reluctant, afraid sometimes to come forward, it's the right thing to do....

    Marco Waters sister Takethia Barthell gets a hug from Waters best friend Jermain Fitzgerald while Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri talks to the media at a news conference Friday morning 6/19/2015 to discuss the unsolved homicide of Marco Waters. Gualtieri was joined by members of the Waters family including his six children. Waters sister Takethia Barthell also spoke. In addition two members of the Springtime Club were present. The Sheriff's Office partners with Springtime Club, an organization that serves as community advocates for victims of crime and to raise awareness of unsolved murder cases. Waters was murdered on the evening of February 26, 2001 in High Point an unincorporated area east of Largo. [JIM DAMASKE   |   Times]
  8. Some Pinellas jail inmates forced to stay longer because of 'negligence' in paperwork

    Public Safety

    LARGO — Several inmates were forced to stay in jail longer than required recently, ranging from a few hours to up to a week, Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri acknowledged Thursday.

    The rash of overstays began last year, and about five Pinellas County jail employees were investigated at the supervisory level, where the most severe form of discipline is a written reprimand. But after learning of the cases this year, Gualtieri sent a memo to inmate records staff to announce that any future overstays would be investigated formally by internal affairs investigators and discipline would range from a five-day suspension to termination....

    “I am extremely frustrated by it. … You’re talking about people’s freedom.”
Bob Gualtieri,
Pinellas County sheriff
  9. Argument over ice cream cake doesn't have a sweet ending

    Crime

    PALM HARBOR

    Emily Ann Velilla wanted to return an ice cream cake at the Baskin-Robbins at 33240 U.S. 19, but a store employee explained that since she bought the cake from the corporate office, she needed to contact that office for a refund.

    Velilla, 46, "became irate and began yelling and cursing at the staff," an arrest report states. "Eventually, the defendant picked up the cake and threw it."...

  10. Clearwater officer suspended after 4 a.m. off-duty accident

    Public Safety

    CLEARWATER — Officer Dennis Shane Cason was off-duty, bar-hopping, and drinking Bud Light on Dec. 9. Although he felt a "buzz going," he got behind the wheel of his Ford pickup and crashed into a tree on Hercules Avenue just before 4 a.m.

    Several witnesses reported that he smelled of alcohol, had slurred speech, and an unsteady gait, but his blood-alcohol level was never measured and responding officers did not charge him with DUI, deciding instead to cite Cason for careless driving, according to internal affairs records released Wednesday by the Clearwater Police Department....

    Clearwater police Chief Dan Slaughter said he was disappointed by an inquiry on an officer’s crash.
  11. St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral dean leaves church, priesthood

    Religion

    TARPON SPRINGS — The top religious leader at St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral has disappeared, leaving behind only an email explaining that he is abandoning not only his job but also the priesthood.

    But the lengthy message from Father Anastasios Gounaris offers no answers to the questions being raised by puzzled parishioners: Why did Gounaris quit? Where is he now?

    Parish council president Nikitas Manias said he doesn't know....

    Father Anastasios Gounaris, left, watches as Theodora Lialios releases the dove during the 109th Epiphany celebration in Tarpon Springs in January.
  12. Slain Officer Charles Kondek's name added to Tarpon Springs police building

    Public Safety

    TARPON SPRINGS — The Tarpon Springs Police Department on Friday unveiled the engraving of Officer Charles Kondek's name on the agency's building and a memorial stone dedicated to fallen officers.

    Kondek, 45, was fatally shot Dec. 21 while responding to a noise complaint at the Glen's Eureka Apartments. His wife, Teresa, and their children were among dozens, including members of several law enforcement agencies, who gathered Friday outside the police department at 444 S Huey Ave....

    The Tarpon Springs Police Department unveiled Friday the building’s engraving of the name of slain Tarpon Springs Police Officer Charles Kondek, who was fatally shot in 2014. [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD   |   Times] 
  13. Lawyer questions intrusiveness of Pinellas Sheriff's Office car burglary prevention method

    Public Safety

    Police have tried it all: fliers, billboards, undercover surveillance and meetings with neighborhood watch groups. But residents continue to leave their cars unlocked, leading to high numbers of vehicle burglaries and thefts.

    The Pinellas County Sheriff's Office has been trying a different method. Since the program's inception six years ago, deputies are routinely assigned to walk in neighborhoods and lift the door handles of cars. If a car's locked, they walk away. If not, the deputy cracks the door open and slips a bright yellow flier on the driver's seat that reads, "Be sure it's secure, lock it up!" before locking the car and closing the door....

    Pinellas deputies have been leaving these fliers inside cars they find unlocked. [Pinellas County Sheriff's Office]
  14. East Lake firefighters training for submerged car rescues

    Public Safety

    EAST LAKE — It was past 3 a.m. when the 911 caller noticed tail lights glowing inside the retention pond at Forelock Drive and Misty Hollow Lane.

    East Lake Fire Rescue arrived that early morning of Nov. 15, 2014. It was dark, it was cold, and bubbles were not rising from the water's surface, an indication that the Toyota Camry had been submerged for a while. With a cable and hook, a fire vehicle eventually pulled it to land....

    East Lake Fire Rescue is organizing a team of a dozen firefighters equipped with lightweight scuba gear who will rescue people from submerged cars.
  15. Police: iPhone app leads to man's arrest

    Crime

    ST. PETERSBURG

    Police: iPhone app leads to homeless man's arrest

    A 52-year-old homeless man was arrested May 26 after officers found him asleep with a stolen phone, an arrest report states.

    The rightful owner tracked down the iPhone 6 by using an app used to find lost phones. It led police to Robert Warren Birkbeck, who was found sleeping on Central Avenue with the phone sticking out of his pocket, a report says....