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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. Clearwater officer who lived on street as teen helps the homeless

    Public Safety


    Officer Eric Mitchell watched as the homeless gathered in a grassy lot on Pierce Street.

    On a recent Tuesday, dozens of men and women, some on bikes and others in wheelchairs or on crutches, formed a line and waited to receive plates of rice, beans and pasta salad from organizers with the Hearts on Fire Ministry.

    Mitchell was there as part of the Clearwater Police Department's bike team, which primarily focuses on homeless outreach. As a teenager, he used to stand in lines like this at food pantries and lived in a car for a year, but eventually got off the streets and hopes he can help others to do the same in his new role on the team....

    Clearwater police Officer Eric Mitchell, 36, talks with Robert Geno, 57, from left, Terrell Shelton, 50, and Robert Frederick, 44, last week at Crest Lake Park on S Glenwood Avenue. The men all said they have been homeless for years.
  2. Court records reveal more details in Clearwater slaying of 82-year-old man


    CLEARWATER — The four Hernando County men accused of robbing and killing an 82-year-old man in January targeted him after learning from a former girlfriend that the victim kept money in a safe.

    Stacey Zagurski, 40, whom officials described as having "a romantic relationship'' with Allen Usher of Clearwater, is serving three years in prison for, among other things, stealing from him....

    Suspects in the murder of Allen Usher, clockwise from left: Gaetano Spera, Jonathan Nelson, Excel Lawson and Alex Richardson. They were arrested in February and charged with first-degree murder.
  3. Arson at Zorba's in Tarpon Springs brings back memories, good and bad


    TARPON SPRINGS — More than 30 years ago, an arsonist broke into Zorba's nightclub on a Monday night, poured kerosene throughout the property, and ignited one of Tarpon Springs' gems of Greek nostalgia.

    "I was blown away," said George Patides, whose parents owned the establishment at the time and rebuilt it following the blaze. "I saw the cymbals of the drum set were all melted."...

    The interior of Zorba’s was declared a total loss after the March 18 arson. The Tarpon Springs club was closed at the time and no one was hurt, police said.
  4. Clearwater detectives make arrest in 2006 killing of hotel security guard


    CLEARWATER — Kenneth Robert Missey, a sex offender with a lengthy criminal record, tried to convince detectives someone else fatally shot an unarmed security guard in 2006.

    "He played a game of misdirection and false information," Clearwater police Chief Dan Slaughter said during a news conference Tuesday.

    But that game ended when detectives discovered Missey, 50, was giving false alibis and pointing them toward a potential suspect who was in prison at the time of William "Bill" Williams' slaying....

  5. Ex-friend of suspect in police officer's killing: 'It's just a whole bunch of shots' (w/video)


    TARPON SPRINGS — Jareem Roach heard arguing from the parking lot, peered out the window of his second-floor apartment and saw a man waving a gun. He grabbed a 9mm Ruger and bolted downstairs.

    "By the time I make it out here, man," Roach said Wednesday, "it's just a whole bunch of shots."

    Roach found a wounded Tarpon Springs police officer on the pavement "fighting for his life." As a white Hyundai sped away from the Glen's Eureka apartment building, Roach said, he recognized the driver....

    Marco Antonio Parilla Jr. is in jail awaiting trial on a charge of first-degree murder in the death of Tarpon Springs police Officer Charles Kondek.
  6. Suspect in police officer's killing said he was in a mood to kill, records show


    Just hours before the fatal shooting of a Tarpon Springs police officer in December, court records show the man accused of shooting him told a man at a party that he was in a mood to kill.

    Marco A. Parilla Jr., 24, was at a party in Holiday before the fateful encounter with Officer Charles Kondek, 45, in the early hours of Dec. 21. Parilla chatted with another partygoer who noticed a Glock in his pants pocket....

    Marco A. Parilla Jr. is escorted into the Pinellas County Jail after being arrested on suspicion of first-degree murder after a police officer was fatally shot.
  7. Fire at Zorba's in Tarpon Springs investigated as arson (w/video)


    TARPON SPRINGS — A fire that ripped through a popular club in the Sponge Docks district is being investigated as an arson, authorities said.

    Tarpon Springs Fire Rescue responded to a call about 12:30 a.m. Wednesday that Zorba's nightclub, 504 and 508 Athens St., was in flames. The building's interior was a total loss, police said. Zorba's, in business for decades, was closed and unoccupied at the time of the blaze....

    Zorba’s nightclub, at 504 and 508 Athens St., has been in business for decades.
  8. Lawsuit: Man accuses Pinellas Sheriff's Office of wrongly arresting him in 2012

    Public Safety

    A man who claims he was wrongly arrested on charges that he molested a boy is suing the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office, according to a federal complaint.

    The lawsuit, filed last week in the Middle District of Florida in Tampa, states that Michael A. Rutkowski, 57, was at his Oldsmar home on Oct. 15, 2012, when two deputies arrived and told him he was being arrested on a Leon County warrant....

  9. Sheriff: Deputy in beach brawl video did his job


    ST. PETE BEACH — It was a sunny afternoon when a group of beachgoers flagged down Pinellas sheriff's Sgt. Bryan Bingham about a fight involving roughly 20 people on Sunday.

    He headed in the direction of the brawl and approached Joshua McMahan, one of the men deputies say was involved in the scuffle.

    "I couldn't control him right away. He was in an excited state," Bingham said. "When I tried to pull him away, he turned around and he swung and he hit me."...

  10. Former police sergeant fatally shot by ex-wife, officials say

    Public Safety

    INDIAN ROCKS BEACH — The Pinellas Sheriff's Office identified on Monday the person who it says fatally shot John Joseph Rush, a medical examiner investigator and former St. Petersburg police sergeant.

    It was his ex-wife, Cara A. Ryan, the Sheriff's Office said. She has not been arrested and the Sheriff's Office did not release any details about the shooting Saturday night, saying only that the investigation remained active....

    Sunday’s shooting victim, former St. Petersburg police Sgt. John Joseph Rush, second from right, is pictured with colleagues at a Christmas party 10 or so years ago. From left are Sgt. Joe Pratt, sheriff’s Deputy Scott Pierce, Rush, and former Sgt. Phil Quandt, who died in 2007.
  11. Authorities target pain-relieving herb — no, not medical marijuana

    Public Safety

    After the recent crackdown on prescription and synthetic drugs across the state, authorities are now focusing on controlling an herb currently legal in Florida and believed to elicit the same effects as some narcotics.

    Made from the leaves of trees that grow in southeast Asia, kratom is on the radar of many agencies: The U.S. Food and Drug Administration began detaining imported kratom last year, and the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services ordered grocery and convenience stores to stop selling the products. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration also added it to its list of drugs of concern....

    An opened capsule containing Kratom.[JIM DAMASKE   |   Times]
  12. Technology sheds new light on fingerprints and other evidence (w/video)


    LARGO — Forensic science manager Greg Mason calls it the Ferrari of crime scene processing.

    He's talking about the new full spectrum imaging systems designed to detect and capture images of fingerprints and other evidence without the need for powder or chemicals. The Pinellas County Sheriff's Office is now equipped with two.

    "There's nothing else like it," Mason said, adding it could solve crimes faster. "It's just unheard of."...

    A pair of fingerprints on a receipt are illuminated by Greg Mason, section manager with the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office's Forensic Sciences Division, with the department's new Full Spectrum Imaging System (FSIS) on Thursday. [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times]
  13. Tarpon Springs okays new townhome development

    Local Government

    TARPON SPRINGS — City commissioners on Tuesday approved the first phase of Cypress Trails, a development of 95 townhomes just east of U.S. 19.

    Karen Lemmons, economic development manager, estimates that the project would generate $103,500 in yearly property tax revenue and one-time development fees of nearly $800,000.

    Phase 1 includes the construction of 38 homes. The developer, Lindiakos Properties, has not reported property prices to the city, but Lemmons said homes in similar developments have previously been listed in the $200,000 range....

  14. Home destroyed, five people displaced by fire in Largo


    LARGO — Five people were displaced and a home was destroyed by a large fire in Largo on Friday morning, authorities said.

    Firefighters were called to 929 15th Ave. SW at 11:15 a.m., said Largo Assistant Fire Chief Doug Swartz. Approximately 55 responders from five agencies knocked down the flames in about 45 minutes, he said.

    No one was injured, but a cat inside the home died....

    Approximately 55 responders from five agencies knocked down the flames at 929 15th Ave. SW in about 45 minutes, said Largo Assistant Fire Chief Doug Swartz.  [JIM DAMASKE | Times]
  15. Tarpon Springs officer's death lingers for night-shift colleagues

    Public Safety


    It was past midnight when Officer Christopher Lemmon responded to a noise complaint, everything dark and silent around him except for the glow of his laptop and the chatter on his radio.

    He parked in front of the two-story house on Briland Street. Officer Tommy Nguyen, with the canine unit, was already there.

    Together, they approached the front door.

    More than two months ago, the officers lost one of their own, in a similar call: While checking on a report of a loud car stereo, Charles Kondek, a married father of six, was fatally shot by a convicted felon who police say didn't want to go back to prison....

    Tarpon Springs police officers back one another up on a traffic stop on the midnight shift Feb. 21. In December, the officers lost one of their own a few blocks away. “You never know what you’re going to encounter,” Officer Christopher Lemmon said.