Make us your home page

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. St. Petersburg police: Man robs taxi driver, leaves wallet in the back seat



    St. Petersburg police: Man robs taxi driver, leaves wallet in the back seat

    A 22-year-old man accused of robbing a taxi driver at gunpoint left behind some valuable clues for police, according to an arrest report.

    D'Andre Foster of St. Petersburg hired the taxi driver Jan. 1 and ordered him to stop at the intersection of Ninth Avenue N and 35th Street. He asked for change. As the driver pulled cash from his pocket, Foster pointed a hand gun at him and demanded money, a report says. They struggled for the gun, but Foster ran off....

  2. Pinellas deputy arrested on attempted manslaughter charge (w/video)


    Dylan Tompkins-Holmes was drunk, interrupting an investigation and cursing at deputies.

    But he did not deserve to get shot twice by a deputy, Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said Friday.

    After a monthlong investigation that involved sheriff's detectives and the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney's Office, Deputy Timothy Virden was arrested on a charge of attempted manslaughter.

    Virden, who was also fired from the Sheriff's Office, turned himself in at the Pinellas County Jail on Friday morning....

    Deputy Timothy Virden turned himself in at the Pinellas County Jail on Friday.
  3. Pinellas deputies make arrest in string of school break-ins


    ST. PETERSBURG — On five occasions, Daniel Vaughan broke into Northside Christian School in October and November, according to arrest reports.

    Three times, Vaughan, 20, of Seminole plugged in the power of the fuel pumps and stole more than 100 gallons from the school at 7777 62nd Ave N.

    On Oct. 10, he hopped onto a golf cart on school campus and drove it recklessly, and then stole hand towels from a maintenance building, a report states....

  4. Pinellas judge rejects death penalty request after Supreme Court ruling


    LARGO — Days after the Supreme Court struck down the way Florida sentences people to die, a Pinellas County circuit judge has ruled that the death penalty cannot be pursued in a first-degree murder case scheduled for trial next month.

    In an order filed Friday, judge Michael Andrews rejected prosecutors' notice that they intend to seek the death penalty in the case of a Pinellas Park father, Steven Dykes, accused of fatally shaking and striking his 3-month-old daughter in February of last year....

    Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty for a man accused of killing his 3-month-old daughter.
  5. St. Petersburg woman accused of dialing 911 during traffic stop



    Woman accused of dialing 911 during traffic stop 'to create an alarm'

    A Pinellas deputy stopped Angela Borden on Jan. 8 because she was driving without a tag and a broken brake light.

    At some point, Borden called 911 "to create an alarm that she was being stopped by a person impersonating a law enforcement officer," an arrest report reads.

    Borden told a dispatcher she had no way of knowing that the person who stopped her was in fact a sworn deputy, even though he was driving a fully marked patrol car with lights and wearing a Sheriff's Office-issued uniform. She also provided the deputy with an ID card containing another name....

  6. Epiphany cross retriever had an edge



    Anderson Combs stood with several other Greek Orthodox boys in a dinghy, their eyes on the white cross about to be hurled into Spring Bayou.

    The teen who retrieves the cross is said to receive a year of blessings. In preparation for the dive, the boys pray. Some strategize about which boat to jump from for the best chances of grabbing the cross.

    But Combs had an edge on some of his fellow divers: He is a seasoned swimmer. He has been on the swim team for Hudson High, at one point finishing a 50-yard freestyle in less than 24 seconds. He is also a lifeguard and scuba diver....

    Anderson Combs, 17, from Hudson, retrieved the cross during Tarpon Spring's 110th Epiphany celebration Wednnesday 1/6/2016.  (Key details: Archbishop Demetrios of America- Dove bearer Fotini Sisois.)
  7. Escaped Tarpon Springs inmate charged with string of crimes while on the run


    Raul Diaz is a burglar.

    After serving about half of a 26-month sentence, he was transferred in October to a work-release center in Tarpon Springs, a place where nonviolent inmates can complete their sentences and find a job.

    Five days after his arrival, Diaz, 27, walked away from the facility and never returned.

    During the four weeks he evaded police, deputies received a series of reports about mobile home burglaries up and down Pinellas County....

    Raul Diaz, 27, escaped from a Tarpon Springs work-release center in October. He was nabbed Nov. 5.
  8. Man charged with murder in connection to Dec. 6 St. Petersburg shooting


    ST. PETERSBURG — Detectives arrested a 24-year-old man in connection with a fatal shooting inside the courtyard of an apartment complex Dec. 6, police said Thursday.

    Bruce Sanders of St. Petersburg faces a charge of second-degree murder. He is accused of killing Aaron Anthony Davis, 25, who is among seven young men killed in recent weeks in a rash of shootings across St. Petersburg....

    Bruce Sanders, 24, is charged with the murder of Aaron Anthony Davis, 25.
  9. Deputies: Winning lottery tickets are losers for gas station employee



    A 31-year-old man is accused of stealing $970 worth of lottery scratch-off tickets while working at a gas station, an arrest report says.

    Charles Fields of St. Petersburg was employed at the 7-Eleven at 1271 Pasadena Ave. S when he stole the tickets, according to the report.

    Video surveillance at a Speedway gas station on 66th Street N showed Fields redeeming $215 in lottery winnings....

  10. Residents, law enforcement gather to remember slain Tarpon Springs officer

    Public Safety

    TARPON SPRINGS — Dozens of people gathered for a vigil Monday night in honor of Charles Kondek, the Tarpon Springs police officer killed last Dec. 21 while working the midnight shift.

    Addressing residents from the community and officers from around Tampa Bay, Tarpon Springs police Sgt. Michael Trill said Kondek should not be defined by his death.

    "Remember Charlie for who he was," he said. "Not just his death, but how he lived."...

    Tarpon Springs police Chief Robert Kochen comforts Teresa Kondek on Monday, moments after she placed a rose at the memorial for her husband, Officer Charles Kondek, during a service to celebrate and remember the officer who was fatally shot on Dec. 21, 2014, while responding to a noise complaint in Tarpon Springs.
  11. Police: Man cuts hole in roof of two pharmacies, steals pills



    Police: Man cuts hole in roof of two pharmacies, steals hundreds of pills

    A 25-year-old man was arrested last week on charges that he broke into the roofs of two pharmacies and stole hundreds of pills, according to arrest reports.

    On Dec. 2, Jamie Conder cut a hole into the roof of the G & H Pharmacy at 8091 66th St. N. Once inside, he stole several kinds of drugs, including oxycodone, morphine and methadone, a report states....

  12. Clearwater police collect 458 guns during buyback event

    Public Safety

    CLEARWATER — The cars lined up 30 minutes before the gun buyback event was scheduled to begin Saturday morning.

    Officers collected handguns and rifles, some of them old and rusted and others in good working condition. They also accepted BB or pellet guns, homemade guns constructed of wood and duct tape, and even a potato gun.

    Within five hours, Clearwater police had collected 458 guns, more than double the number of weapons turned in during the agency's last buyback event in 2011....

    Cars began lining up outside the Joe DiMaggio Sports Complex at 2450 Drew St. 30 minutes before officers started accepting guns at 9 a.m. The event lasted until 2 p.m. [Photo courtesy of Clearwater Police Department]
  13. For now, Clearwater police will not use body cameras

    Public Safety

    CLEARWATER — Citing recurring costs and a lack of complaints about excessive use of force, the Clearwater Police Department has decided not to outfit its 170 patrol officers with body cameras.

    The move is more evidence of a divide among Tampa Bay area law enforcement agencies over the technology's benefits.

    Some embrace it: Gulfport police officers have been equipped with the cameras for five years, Pasco deputies started using them this year, and Tampa police are testing out 60 cameras. Other departments are not convinced. The sheriff's offices in Pinellas and Hillsborough do not use them....

    This summer, Clearwater police outfitted five officers with Taser body cameras for a four-week pilot program. “I definitely see the value of the item, and somewhere down the road it may become a regular tool in law enforcement,” Clearwater police Chief Dan Slaughter said.
  14. Florida Hospital North Pinellas plans to build new emergency rooms

    Local Government

    Florida Hospital North Pinellas is planning to open an off-site 24-bed emergency room in Palm Harbor, as well as renovate its current emergency department in Tarpon Springs.

    "It is absolutely critical to the future growth of this hospital," said CEO Bruce Bergherm during a recent meeting with Tarpon Springs city commissioners. "This is important that the hospital continue to expand its reach so that it can compete in a very challenging marketplace. It provides greater access to quality health care."...

    Florida Hospital North Pinellas plans to start construction of an off-site, 24-hour emergency room in Palm Harbor in January. The $16.3 million building will be at U.S. 19 and Highlands Boulevard.
  15. Police blotter: Officers say they found hidden drugs in police cruiser


    ST. PETERSBURG After Jovontae Edwards was arrested on a traffic-related warrant, police searched his car and found a loaded gun and a crack pipe.

    Edwards, 22, was booked into the Pinellas County Jail on Nov. 20. But during a routine check of the patrol car that he had been sitting in, officers discovered something else.

    The back seat was dislodged, arrest reports show. Underneath, police discovered about 40 hydromorphone pills....