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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. Thousands get warnings, tickets during four-week Pinellas pedestrian safety initiative


    Deputies throughout Florida handed out more than 15,000 warnings and 7,000 tickets during a four-week operation focusing on pedestrian safety.

    Organized by the Florida Sheriffs Association, operation Safe Steps involved 18 sheriff's offices and aimed at reducing the uptick in pedestrian-related crashes throughout the state.

    From 2011 to 2013, nearly 1,500 died and 18,000 others were injured in 25,900 pedestrian crashes, Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said during a news conference Monday....

  2. Teen sentenced to 15 years in connection to 2012 slaying


    ST. PETERSBURG — Christine Mayers dreamed of her dead son the night before a teen girl involved in his slaying faced her prison sentence.

    In court Friday, she described how Jeremy Mayers, glowing and dressed in white, hugged her and told her everything would be okay.

    Mayers, surrounded by family, watched as circuit judge Joseph Bulone ordered Brittany Detwiler, who previously pleaded guilty to second-degree murder, to serve 15 years in prison....

    Brittany Detwiler, left, listens during her sentencing for second-degree murder Friday at the Pinellas Justice Center.
  3. Good Samaritans save dog from Largo lake

    Human Interest

    LARGO — Monica Fowler is a regular at Taylor Park, where she walks or takes photos of wildlife a few times a week. But Wednesday morning, Fowler spotted something hanging from a pipe near the 53-acre lake's seawall.

    It was a white bulldog mix, its paws clinging to the pipe, the rest of its body submerged in murky water.

    She saw a car heading her way and flagged it down.

    "He could have just not even stopped when I was waving at him," said Fowler, a retired geologist. "He doesn't know who I am or what's going on."...

    This bulldog mix, which its owner said had escaped after being let out of the house into the yard, was spotted clinging to a pipe in the lake at Taylor Park in Largo on Wednesday morning.
  4. Quincy the dog sniffs out arson for firefighters


    CLEARWATER — Steven Raynard Jones walked away from the apartment he shared with his wife as flames inside killed her two cats.

    Hours later, Pinellas sheriff's deputies located Jones, 45, at the El Rio Motel off Fourth Street N in St. Petersburg. He denied setting fire to his home in the unincorporated Clearwater area, but Quincy was not fooled, police records show.

    The 8-year-old Labrador mix with big floppy ears and bright brown eyes sniffed Jones' clothes and sat down, indicating he'd detected fuel....

    Quincy, Pinellas County’s only arson dog, visits with Clearwater fire inspector Ron Neuberger at Clearwater Fire Station No. 45. 
  5. Clearwater police ask for public's help on fatal hit-and-run


    CLEARWATER — Police are still searching for the driver of a dark-colored SUV that struck and killed a 22-year-old motorcyclist on Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard last month.

    Detectives have one witness and one video surveillance tape. They've checked with dealerships in Clearwater, and soon in Dunedin, for any SUVs coming in for crash repairs, said Sgt. Michael Walek, who oversees the traffic homicide investigators....

    Maralyn Gilbert with grandson Martin Jay Baltimore, who was killed in the accident. Officers are handing out fliers of the SUV.
  6. Report reveals power outage causes, other problems at Pinellas 911 center

    Public Safety

    LARGO — Inadequate surge protection, faulty grounding and baby ospreys are to blame for an outage of Pinellas County's 911 system for 45 minutes this summer, according to a report released Tuesday.

    The analysis, conducted by the county and released in draft form, also details the causes of other problems at the new 911 center, including reports of busy signals and a partial power loss earlier this month....

  7. Smugglers get creative with contraband at Pinellas County jail


    LARGO — During Sgt. Ron Wehr's first week on duty at the Pinellas County jail, an inmate provided this tip: Contraband was being smuggled in by a nylon cord.

    Skeptical, Wehr scanned the outside of the jail one July morning in 2013. He glanced toward the flag pole near the public lobby and saw a thin line on the wall. Detectives yanked on the cord and a grocery bag containing marijuana, cigarettes, chewing tobacco, and lighters tumbled down....

    Inmates in the sixth-floor recreation room at the jail were pulling up contraband by a nylon cord. 
  8. Deputy involved in traffic crash in Clearwater


    Three Pinellas Sheriff's deputies have been involved in traffic crashes, all resulting in injuries, within the past week.

    The latest crash occurred Wednesday night in Clearwater when deputy Crystal Trentmann was heading west on Drew Street near N Glenwood Avenue in a marked Chevy Impala on the right curb lane. As she tried to make a U-turn to stop a car for a traffic violation, Trentmann did not see a Ford Explorer in the left lane and struck the car's rear, the Sheriff's Office said....

  9. Pinellas sheriff's deputies shoot knife-wielding man dead in Dunedin


    DUNEDIN — Michael Case wanted to hurt himself with the steak knife in his hand, so his girlfriend called 911 just after midnight Monday and restrained him on the floor.

    When deputy Jose Berrios-Collazo walked into the trailer inside the Oak Bend Mobile Home Park at 801 Main St., he stepped on Case's arm and began to retrieve the Taser from his belt. Suddenly, Case forced his girlfriend aside and lunged at the deputy, authorities said....

    Deputies were called to this home in Oak Bend Mobile Home Park in Dunedin early Tuesday because of a man threatening to hurt himself with a knife.
  10. Detectives uncover pill smuggling at the Pinellas County Jail


    LARGO — Detectives made arrests in two drug smuggling schemes involving sealed envelopes and a McDonald's Egg McMuffin wrapper at the Pinellas County Jail on Thursday.

    In one case, they got a tip about drugs being dropped off outside the video visitation center.

    Recorded telephone conversations at the jail revealed that inmate Stephenie Grove, 26, told fiance Robert Stephen Lytle, 47, to drop off pills outside video visitation on Thursday....

  11. Baby injured in Largo crash dies, police say


    LARGO — A 6-week-old girl who was struck by a car earlier this week as her mother tried to cross Missouri Avenue died Wednesday morning, police said.

    About 6:30 p.m. Monday, Sarah Arlia, 32, was crossing the street near Commerce Drive S with her 5-year-old son, Benjamin Garguilo, and her baby daughter, Serena Arlia, when a 2003 BMW heading south struck the family.

    They were not in a crosswalk, Largo police said. The driver of the BMW, Sandra Neki, 65, will not face charges, according to police....

  12. Pinellas deputy reacts quickly to stop wrong-way driver


    It was still dark when Pinellas sheriff's deputy Kim Kilian started her shift Saturday morning, except for the pair of headlights beaming in front of her on McMullen-Booth Road.

    After the initial shock faded, she realized a driver was heading north in the southbound lanes.

    "This is bad," she thought to herself. "This is serious, and I need to get this driver stopped as fast as possible."...

    Michael Walter Brooks had a blood-alcohol level of .149. He is charged with DUI and drug possession.
  13. Drug trafficking suspect used Safety Harbor post office, authorities say


    For months, Ronald Delaet rented a P.O. box at the post office on Safety Harbor's quaint, lamp-lit Main Street, just blocks away from the public library.

    He was picking up a package of 99.7 grams of heroin Sept. 19 when detectives arrested him after receiving a tip from federal authorities. When they searched the Clearwater home where he lived, investigators discovered that Delaet was running his own drug empire that produced thousands of dollars and spanned nearly a dozen states....

    Ronald Delaet, 42, is accused of redistributing heroin and other drugs in nearly a dozen states.
  14. Heroin gaining ground among addicts in Tampa Bay


    Stephanie Otero sat on a bucket behind a duplex with a needle and two plastic bags of heroin.

    She was addicted to Roxicodone, also known as roxies, but the pills were hard to come by that summer day last year in Tampa.

    "I had never tried heroin in my life," Otero said, but she'd heard it had the same effect as roxies.

    Since the eradication of pill mills and law enforcement's crackdown on prescription drugs in recent years, authorities in Tampa Bay are now seeing a resurgence in heroin, an older and sometimes deadlier drug....

    Stephanie Otero, 23, takes a taxi on Mondays and Sundays to DACCO, that provides drug and alcohol rehabilitation in east Tampa to continue with her drug treatment program. "Having my son, attending church and getting treatment at DACCO saved my life," said Otero. "I consider myself blessed to be alive." 

[OCTAVIO JONES   |   Times] 

  15. Crisis intervention course helps law enforcement assist mentally ill

    Public Safety

    The 46-year-old man had just lost his job, wanted to kill himself, and kept a gun in his closet.

    Responding officers found his suicide note and chatted with him about his problems, how he needed money to send his daughter off to college, how he wasn't sure what was next. They offered to take him to Morton Plant Hospital for an evaluation.

    "We need to fix this," Pinellas Sheriff's Deputy Sheila Langlais told him, "and get you some help."...

    Facilitator and St. Petersburg Police Community Service Officer Dennis Kelly explains a scenario officers will experience at Crisis Intervention Team training.