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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. Retired officers with pensions returning to work across Tampa Bay

    Public Safety

    Dan Simovich was hired at the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office in 1979, worked his way to the agency's No. 2 spot, retired in 2012, and began working for a private security company the following year.

    But in February, he became chief deputy again after collecting deferred compensation of $540,968. He also receives a $9,132 monthly pension and a $155,000 annual salary. He made $140,000 before retirement....

    Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri says the experience that rehired officers bring to the department is invaluable.
  2. Tarpon Springs property tax rate to remain the same next year

    Local Government

    TARPON SPRINGS — Despite increasing property values, the city's property tax rate is expected to remain the same for the sixth consecutive year.

    Taxpayers would continue to pay $5.45 for every $1,000 of assessed, taxable value. City Manager Mark LeCouris said he would like to see the values rise more before lowering the tax rate.

    Taxable property values this year reached $1.4 billion. The city expects values to surge another 6 percent in 2016....

    Mark LeCouris wants to see home values rise more.
  3. Pinellas deputy wins award

    Public Safety

    Sgt. Todd Bailey of the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office was presented the Deputy of the Year Award in Corrections Innovation by the National Sheriff's Association last week in Baltimore.

    Bailey helped establish the agency's misdemeanor probation unit in 2013. He is the unit's supervisor, overseeing 2,500 probationers and a $1.4 million budget. Bailey, who has worked at the Sheriff's Office for 25 years, competed against nominees from 3,100 departments nationwide....

  4. Detectives grappling with uptick of car thefts across Pinellas

    Crime

    St. Petersburg police Sgt. John DeLuca remembers how, more than 10 years ago, thieves primarily stole cars by jamming screwdrivers or scissors into ignitions.

    But pilfering vehicles has become relatively easy in recent years because many drivers leave their keys inside unlocked cars. Across Pinellas in the past two years, detectives at the Sheriff's Office and the St. Petersburg and Clearwater police departments have noted an uptick in vehicle thefts....

  5. Tarpon Springs to speed process for opening businesses that sell liquor

    Local Government

    TARPON SPRINGS — City commissioners approved an ordinance this week that would allow businesses that sell alcohol to open faster.

    Under the previous alcohol ordinance, created in 1990, businesses that wanted to sell alcohol had their request reviewed by the technical review committee, planning and zoning board and city commissioners. The process could last up to three months.

    Now, businesses requesting an alcohol license can seek approval through the planning director and city manager....

  6. Clearwater police officers testing body cameras

    Public Safety

    CLEARWATER — Starting Saturday, five police officers will be outfitted with body cameras as part of a 30-day pilot program at Pinellas County's third largest law enforcement agency.

    The Clearwater Police Department is testing two kinds of Taser cameras: the Axon Body, which can be clipped onto the front of an officer's uniform, and the Axon Flex, which features a camera attached to a pair of glasses....

    The Clearwater Police Department is evaluating these two body cameras, the Taser Axon Flex, left, and the Taser Axon Body, which are being used by several thousand small and mid-sized agencies to document interactions between police offers and the public. [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD   |   Times] 
  7. 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....

  8. 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....

  9. 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....

  10. 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.
  11. 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....

    The back yard at 1016 Stonefence Way in Tarpon Springs was the scene of an explosion just after midnight Monday. [DOUGLAS CLIFFORD   |   Times]
  12. 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. ...

    Authorities and neighbors gather at the scene of the fatal lightning strike in Largo on Friday. “God decided to take him in a big, spectacular way,” a daughter of the victim said. 
  13. 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]
  14. 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
  15. 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."...