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. 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 serves Thanksgiving dinner to families every year.

    Despite his rise through the ranks of the Clearwater Police Department in 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)]
  2. 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....

    Clearwater police Officer Nicholas Giordano questions Robert Smith, 20, moments after his arrest last weekend on firearms and alcohol charges.
  3. 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. 
  4. Man blinded after brutal attack in Largo parking lot

    Crime

    LARGO — A Palm Harbor man faces an attempted murder charge after police said he beat another man to the point of blinding him.

    Philip Anthony Caldwell, 47, was at a family gathering at the Brittany Bay Apartments complex at 1201 Seminole Blvd. on June 10 when he became upset after Gregory White, 57, argued with Caldwell's teenage son.

    Caldwell and his son later escorted White, who was drunk, to his car, where he fell asleep, according to an arrest affidavit. But moments later, Caldwell returned, beat him with a blunt object and ran away, police said....

    Philip Anthony Caldwell, 47, was being held Thursday at the Pinellas County Jail without bail.
  5. Teens' beer-on-beach prank gives cop a hangover

    News

    CLEARWATER — A Clearwater police officer was reprimanded this week after she used foul language while questioning three teen pranksters who tricked her into thinking they were drinking beer on the beach.

    A YouTube video posted online last week shows the confrontation between Officer Tanya Reed and the teens.

    On July 6, she was driving on Gulfview Boulevard near the Hyatt Regency hotel when she saw three boys, ages 15, 16, and 17, heading toward the beach while carrying glass mugs that appeared to hold beer....

  6. Clearwater officer reprimanded for cursing at three pranksters

    Public Safety

    CLEARWATER — A Clearwater police officer was reprimanded this week after she used foul language while questioning three teen pranksters who tricked her into thinking they were drinking beer on the beach.

    A YouTube video posted online last week shows the confrontation between Officer Tanya Reed and the teens.

    On July 6, she was driving on Gulfview Boulevard near the Hyatt Regency hotel when she saw three boys, ages 15, 16, and 17, heading toward the beach while carrying glass mugs that appeared to hold beer....

  7. Tampa Bay law enforcement sees value in military's MRAPs

    Public Safety

    The 33-ton vehicle towers at about 10 feet, its massive metal frame supported by six tires that can trudge easily through mud, sand and high water. Its price tag: $733,000.

    But for only $2,000, law enforcement agencies nationwide, including some in the Tampa Bay area, have been able to snag these mine-resistant vehicles used to protect troops in Iraq and Afghanistan against roadside bombs. Since August 2013, the Department of Defense has distributed 600 of them to law enforcement....

    “If the person is shooting at us, we’re not going to worry about that because it’s not going to go through that,” Clearwater Police Chief Anthony Holloway says of the department’s new MRAP, or Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle.
  8. Scholarship still helps young athletes 20 years after fatal Clearwater accident

    Public Safety

    CLEARWATER — Since he was a boy playing Little League baseball, Gregory Richardson's family noticed he had a talent for the sport.

    "He was a pitcher. He threw hard," said his brother, Chris Richardson. "He just had a God-given ability."

    Through the years, Gregory's athletic skills strengthened. He played on his high school baseball and basketball teams, as well as a community baseball team. Before starting college, he was scheduled to try out for the Houston Astros....

    Gregory Richardson was killed by a drunken driver.
  9. Pinellas sheriff no longer keeping immigrants jailed for feds

    Public Safety

    Several Tampa Bay area sheriffs have decided recently not to automatically jail all immigrants as requested by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.

    Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri decided this week that he will allow arrested immigrants who can post bail to leave jail. Previously, the jail would hold immigrants for two days as a courtesy to federal officials while they investigated whether they wanted to try to deport the inmate....

  10. Clearwater summer campers connect with Mexican culture

    Human Interest

    CLEARWATER

    Antonio Martin stood before a table of youngsters as he scribbled foreign words on a dry-erase board. He repeated the same process: Write the word, pronounce it several times, translate it into Spanish and English.

    Among the words was metsi, which means boy. And ya da ma, which means bye.

    "You can use these words at home," Martin told the students. "To learn a language, you must practice it."...

    Anna Cruz, 9, colors an image of an Aztec, who dominated from the 14th to 16th centuries.
  11. St. Pete Pride revelers soak in sun, fun

    Human Interest

    ST. PETERSBURG — They got on stage about noon, when the sky was cloudless, the sun bright and the breeze nonexistent.

    It was sweltering, but for singers Matthew McGee and Scott Daniel, The Scott & Patti Show had to go on. Daniel was garbed in a red blazer and tie. McGee wore a glittery red dress, panty hose, heels and a blond wig.

    "If you're in drag," McGee said after the show, "You're going to melt."...

    Wearing rainbow flags as capes, Jasmine Martinez of Tampa, center, and  Naraely Cruz of Tampa, right, dance to the sounds of a drag king's set on stage at the St. Pete Pride Festival Sunday.
  12. Pinellas County reaches minority hiring goals, but Sheriff's Office isn't there yet, feds say

    Public Safety

    Pinellas County will soon be relieved from a decades-old agreement that required the county to bolster the number of minorities and women in its workforce.

    The Sheriff's Office, however, remains tied to the agreement because, according to the U.S. Department of Justice, the agency "is still working towards achieving those goals."

    "I don't know what they're talking about," Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said Friday, adding that diversity within his agency is "in very good shape."...

  13. Tarpon Springs sailors jailed in Honduras released

    Public Safety

    TARPON SPRINGS — The crew of a Tarpon Springs shipwreck salvage company that languished in a Honduran jail for weeks has been freed.

    Hours after their release Thursday, the six men recovered their 65-foot boat from authorities and prepared for their 41/2-day voyage home.

    "They're out of there," said Stephen Mayne, CEO of Aqua Quest International. "We knew from the beginning of this that this day would be here because the guys never committed any crime."...

    Six men working for the Tarpon Springs shipwreck salvage company Aqua Quest International have been released after being detained in a jail in Honduras since May. The Americans are shown in this photograph talking with fellow inmates in the prison yard. [Courtesy of Michael McCabe]
  14. Pinellas lawyer accused of fondling boy is being held without bail

    Crime

    CLEARWATER — An attorney representing Pinellas County lawyer Robert Tankel, who is accused of fondling a 9-year-old boy during a Big Brothers Big Sisters outing, said in court Wednesday that a witness never saw Tankel touch the child.

    Tankel, 57, was arrested Tuesday on a charge of lewd and lascivious molestation. A judge ordered Wednesday that he remain without bail at the Pinellas County jail, pending a bond hearing later this week....

    Lawyer Robert Tankel is accused of fondling a boy during a Big Brothers Big Sisters outing. 
  15. Pinellas Special Victims Unit focused on sex crimes, human trafficking

    Crime

    Renamed Diamond and Candy by their captors, the teenage girls, ages 15 and 16, were forced to have sex with up to five strangers a day inside motel rooms across Pinellas County.

    In May 2013, while serving a warrant, sheriff's deputies discovered them inside a room at the Knights Inn in St. Petersburg. Detectives arrested four people accused of running a human trafficking ring. The teens, both runaways, were placed in foster care after their parents said they didn't want them back....