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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. 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]
  2. 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 Officer Tommy Nguyen brushes Dobies, his canine partner, during the night shift. 
  3. Bill aims to raise awareness of human trafficking in Florida

    Public Safety

    In recent years, law enforcement agencies in Tampa Bay have created task forces and units to crack down on human trafficking.

    Although investigators have succeeded in arresting the leaders of some human trafficking rings, Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said it's not enough.

    If passed, Senate Bill 534 may help.

    Filed by state Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, the law will require areas of transportation, such as bus stations, airports, and rest stops, as well as adult establishments, to post signs with the National Human Trafficking Resource Center hotline. The signs will also be displayed at libraries, hospitals, and massage parlors....

  4. Upgrades coming to Pinellas County jail facilities

    Public Safety

    LARGO — The County Commission approved a project Tuesday that will renovate parts of the Pinellas County jail.

    The plan includes building a central energy plant and a laundry facility at the jail at 14400 49th St. N, as well as a maintenance building that will be used by county employees.

    A warehouse will also be built, which will store goods purchased by the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office. It will replace the need for another property being leased by the county off Ulmerton Road....

  5. Dunedin woman with Social Security troubles receives first payment

    Human Interest

    DUNEDIN — Gabriela Pezzuti was in tears Friday morning when she called her bank and found out her first Social Security check had just been deposited.

    The money arrived about six months after Pezzuti, 65, was told she did not have the proper paper work to collect the benefits she was entitled to.

    But after an article about Pezzuti's troubles was published in the Tampa Bay Times last month (, she got a call from a Social Security Administration supervisor who said the agency would look into her case, she said....

  6. Four charged in 82-year-old's slaying in Clearwater


    CLEARWATER — For more than two weeks, the men concocted a plan to rob 82-year-old Allen B. Usher.

    On Jan. 9 before 11 p.m., they broke into Usher's home at the Southgate Mobile Home Park at 20000 U.S. 19 N and stole his money and prescription medicine, authorities said.

    "It appears that it was decided that if there was any type of resistance that needed to be overcome," Clearwater police Chief Dan Slaughter said, "they would shoot at the victim."...

  7. Unsolved murder from 1955 still nags Pinellas detective (w/video)



    The box for case No. 55-352 had not been opened in years when Pinellas sheriff's Detective Michael Bailey removed its cover, revealing crumbling rice paper, typewritten witness statements, and handwritten notes by detectives from more than half a century ago. • The brittle pages chronicle what may be Pinellas County's oldest unsolved murder: On Feb. 8, 1955, an avid gambler and married father of five was shot dead in front of his slaughterhouse, a butcher's apron still tied to his waist. • Sixty years later, Bailey said there's only one thing that could possibly close the case....

    In 1955, Henry Shelton was shot to death in front of his slaughterhouse in Pinellas Park. The case is likely the oldest recorded unsolved murder in Pinellas County.
  8. Questions raised over software distributed by Pinellas Sheriff's Office

    Public Safety

    A national nonprofit focusing on digital privacy rights has raised questions about computer software distributed to families by the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office.

    ComputerCOP, a program designed to monitor children's Internet use, has previously claimed endorsements that are questionable at best, according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Among them: the U.S. Treasury.

    "This is all false accusations," said Stephen DelGiorno, ComputerCOP president....

    The Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office began distributing copies of ComputerCOP for free last month.
  9. Dunedin woman waits, wonders why Social Security is denied


    DUNEDIN — Gabriela Pezzuti remembers sitting on the balcony of her family's Havana apartment as a child and looking up at the clouds.

    It is one of her few memories of her birthplace, Cuba. She moved to the United States at age 6.

    For nearly 60 years, Pezzuti considered herself American: she had Social Security and voter's registration cards. She got a driver's license when she was a teenager. She paid income taxes. Her tax returns show Social Security taxes have been withdrawn from her earnings....

    Gabriela Pezzuti, 65, visits with her daughter, Nina Smith, 22, at Smith’s home in Dunedin. She does her best to help her mom.
  10. Dunedin couple accused of killing relative's dog


    TARPON SPRINGS — A man and his girlfriend were arrested Wednesday on charges that they broke into his parents' home and killed the family dog, the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office said.

    Alan and Laura Adams called the Sheriff's Office on Monday to report that their dog, Daisy, was dead and their iPad was missing from their house at 1593 Mary Lane.

    During interviews with detectives, their son, Daniel Adams, and his girlfriend, Lauren Curran, admitted to burglarizing the house and killing Daisy, a 4-year-old Labrador retriever, the Sheriff's Office said....

  11. Grandfather of toddler who shot himself: 'Guns and kids don't mix'

    Public Safety

    EAST LAKE — Robert Edgar was playing catch with his 16-year-old son when he heard the scream.

    He rushed toward the source of the commotion: Across the street, Kevin Ahles had just opened the driver's door of a Nissan Altima and lifted his 2-year-old son, limp and unconscious, into his arms.

    The father yelled his son's name again and again. His mother, Christina Nigro, pulled up his shirt, revealing blood on Kaleb's tiny chest....

    Kaleb Ahles, 2, died after he accidentally shot himself with his father’s gun Wednesday.
  12. Pinellas detention deputy fired for use of excessive force (w/video)

    Public Safety

    LARGO — A detention deputy was fired Tuesday for dumping an inmate out of his wheelchair and then repeatedly striking him, the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office said.

    Deputy Raymond Ferrio was escorting inmate Eugene Borkowski, a sex offender awaiting sentencing on a federal child pornography charge, on Oct. 1 to a medical appointment after he refused to go on his own.

    At some point, Borkowski placed his feet down to prevent Ferrio from moving his chair. Video surveillance in the inmate health care facility captured Ferrio as he wrapped his arm around Borkowski's neck, pulled him out of the wheelchair and dumped him on the floor, shattering his dentures....

  13. Mother reunited with son who was sleeping in stolen car in Clearwater (w/video)


    CLEARWATER — Police were still searching Tuesday for the thief who stole a convertible with a 6-year-old boy sleeping inside.

    Both the car and the boy were located about an hour after his mother, Elizabeth Rivera, called 911.

    Just before 11 p.m. Monday, Rivera, who lives in Largo, stopped by an apartment building at 2045 Alpine Road in Clearwater to pick up her 8-year-old daughter, who was getting her hair braided by Rivera's friend....

    Elizabeth Rivera hugs her 
6-year-old son, Theron Fields, who was not injured after her car was stolen in Clearwater.
  14. Bids for 'In Dog We Trust' rug reach $1,000

    Human Interest

    LARGO — Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri's inbox was inundated with emails from people who wanted the "In Dog We Trust" rug that he removed from his agency's lobby.

    They came from dog lovers throughout the United States, Europe and South America. Even the National Sheriffs' Association sent him a message.

    With the infamous rug sprawled next to him, Gualtieri announced Thursday that it will be sold in an online auction ending at 4 p.m. Wednesday....

    A Pinellas County Sheriff's Office deputy noticed the misspelling on the new $500 rug on Tuesday. [ABC Action News]
  15. Flaw spotted on new rug in Pinellas Sheriff's Office

    Public Safety

    LARGO — The green rugs were placed a few months ago inside the new $81 million building that houses the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office.

    Emblazoned with the sheriff's star, along with a drawing of the state of Florida, they adorned the front lobby until a deputy noticed something wrong Tuesday.

    One of the two rugs read, "In Dog We Trust."

    They were removed Wednesday, a Sheriff's Office spokeswoman said....

    A deputy noticed on Tuesday that one of the two green rugs recently placed inside the new $81 million building that houses the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office read, “In Dog We Trust.’’