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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. Despite cuts, adults with disabilities program will continue in Tarpon Springs

    Local Government

    TARPON SPRINGS — When Claire Lachance learned that the adults with disabilities class her daughter has been attending for the last 12 years was canceled, she couldn't believe it.

    "It was kind of a blow," she said. "This isn't really happening. They must have made a mistake."

    Lachance didn't want to tell her daughter, Susan Levesque, about the news.

    But thanks to funding from the city of Tarpon Springs, she won't have to. The Gro Group program is scheduled to resume after Labor Day, the only program of its kind that will start this school year despite a recent cut in state funding....

  2. Police say man ate stolen chicken in Publix restroom

    Crime

    CLEARWATER

    Police: Man ate stolen chicken in Publix restroom, faces theft charge

    Officers last week arrested a 35-year-old man who was accused of taking a chicken from the deli area of a Publix and then eating it inside a restroom, an arrest report states.

    Video surveillance at the store on Belcher Road captured Toby Howard of Clearwater entering the restroom with the chicken that he had not paid for. An employee later found an open package of chicken....

  3. Brooksville company to provide free airlift for USF student stranded in Cuban hospital

    Human Interest

    Michael Honeycutt saw the news Sunday night: a University of South Florida student hospitalized in Cuba for weeks because her family couldn't afford to fly her home for treatment.

    The CEO of Jet ICU, a Brooksville-based air ambulance company that has flown more than 15,000 patients worldwide, Honeycutt wanted to help.

    As early as Friday, one of his jets will fly Barbara Jimenez, 22, to Tampa for free. She will be admitted to Tampa General Hospital....

  4. USF student hurt in Cuba crash could be in Florida this week

    News

    A medical transport company has offered to fly a University of South Florida student hospitalized in Cuba back to the state for free, Rep. David Jolly said Tuesday.

    Barbara Jimenez, 22, could be back in Florida as early as this week.

    "This is hopefully going to be a very good week," Jolly said. "We are hopeful that this concludes on behalf of the family."

    Jimenez was seriously injured this month in a car wreck that killed her cabdriver and injured her boyfriend and two relatives near Havana. She does not have health insurance and her parents couldn't afford a medically supported flight to Florida, a service that they said could cost tens of thousands of dollars....

  5. Without health insurance, USF student hurt in Cuba crash can't return home

    Human Interest

    The daughter of Cuban parents, Barbara Jimenez has dreams of attending law school after graduating from the University of South Florida. She wants to be a litigation lawyer.

    But earlier this month, she and her boyfriend, John Fox, were seriously injured in a car crash while visiting her family in Cuba. And because she doesn't have health insurance, she can't return to the United States for care. Flying her back could cost tens of thousands of dollars, her family said....

    Barbara Jimenez and her boyfriend, John Fox,  were seriously injured in a car accident in Cuba. Jimenez is a student at USF. (Courtesy of the Jimenez family)
  6. Appeals court overturns 65-year sentences for Bloomingdale Library rapist

    Criminal

    A state appeals court reversed four 65-year sentences of a Hillsborough County man convicted of sexually assaulting a high school student and a day care worker when he was a teenager.

    Kendrick Morris, 23, will be granted a new sentencing, the 2nd District Court of Appeal ruled Friday, because of a recent ruling that determined imposing lengthy prison terms on juveniles convicted of crimes other than murder is unconstitutional. Those sentences fail to provide them with "a meaningful opportunity" for early release based on maturity and rehabilitation, the opinion reads....

    Kendrick Morris, now 23, will get new sentencing for crimes he committed as a teenager. 
  7. Jurors deliberate in Oldsmar double-murder trial

    Criminal

    Diagnosed with schizophrenia, Benjamin Bishop's mind is often clouded with delusions and hallucinations, according to his defense attorneys.

    But prosecutors argued during his murder trial this week that Bishop knew what he was doing on Oct. 28, 2012, when he grabbed a 12-gauge shotgun and fired eight times at his mother, Imari Shibata, and her boyfriend, Kelley Allen, inside their Oldsmar home at 205 Cedar Key Court....

    Prosecutors say Bishop was sane at the time of the shootings.
  8. Jurors begin deliberating in Oldsmar double murder trial

    Criminal

    LARGO — A 12-member jury began deliberating Friday afternoon in the first-degree murder trial of a man charged with fatally shooting his mother, Imari Shibata, and her boyfriend, Kelley Allen.

    Prosecutors said that in the early morning of Oct. 28, 2012, Benjamin Bishop grabbed a 12-gauge shotgun he had been hiding from his family and walked to his mother's room. When Shibata asked what he was doing, Bishop fired at her and Allen several times. Shibata, a nursing assistant, and Allen, a swim coach, died inside the home at 205 Cedar Key Court in Oldsmar. Prosecutors said Bishop killed them because he was angry at his mother, who had told him that evening that he needed to take his medications and get a job....

  9. Mental state an issue for Oldsmar man charged with killing his mother and her boyfriend

    Criminal

    LARGO — Diagnosed with schizophrenia, Benjamin Bishop thought he was Osama bin Laden and Adolf Hitler, sometimes talked to the TV, and believed gangs were after him.

    These are among the delusions that public defender Christina Porrello listed Tuesday to the 12-member jury in the first-degree murder trial of Bishop, 20, charged with fatally shooting his mother, Imari Shibata, and her boyfriend, Kelley Allen, on Oct. 28, 2012....

    Benjamin Bishop is accused of killing his mother and her boyfriend.
  10. Mysterious informer helps dealership recover its stolen cars

    Crime

    ST. PETERSBURG — They agreed to meet at a Taco Bell. No guns allowed.

    Joe Lentini, 60, stood across from the stranger who promised to get his stolen cars back. Lentini frisked the man for weapons and lifted his own shirt to show he wasn't wired. His new acquaintance asked if he was a cop.

    Together, they headed to the back of an abandoned house, where one of Lentini's cars was supposed to be parked....

    Several cars have been stolen from Ted’s Auto Sales this year. The St. Petersburg dealership says that if another one is stolen, it won’t hesitate to use online ads to help with recovering them.
  11. Several arrested in drug sting at two Tarpon Springs motels

    Crime

    TARPON SPRINGS — Authorities arrested 14 people accused of selling drugs to undercover investigators during a 45-day operation that targeted two motels on Tarpon Avenue, police said.

    The Tarpon Springs Police Department and Pinellas County Sheriff's Office began the investigation June 30 at the Tarpon Inn, 110 W Tarpon Ave., and Sunbay Motel, 57 W Tarpon Ave.

    "What we have here is the Charlotte's Web of drug dealing thugs," said Tarpon Springs police Chief Robert Kochen. "What's going on in these motels is unacceptable. It greatly affects the quality of life in this area."...

  12. Deputies: Drunken man shot taxi driver's windshield

    Crime

    TIERRA VERDE — A taxi driver was heading east through the Pinellas Bayway toll booth on Aug. 6 when his passenger, Robert Melby, 31, asked if he could shoot his handgun out of a window while on the bridge, an arrest report states.

    When the driver said no, Melby of Tierra Verde shot the front windshield. Deputies noted in a report that Melby was intoxicated.

    He was jailed on a charge of shooting into an occupied vehicle....

  13. Fire rescue: Lit cigarette caused fatal fire that killed woman in Clearwater

    Fire

    CLEARWATER — Investigators determined that the fire that ripped through a mobile home Tuesday night, killing a woman inside, was likely caused by a lit cigarette, fire rescue said.

    Clearwater Fire Rescue responded to the Bay Breeze Mobile Home Park, 2975 Gulf-to-Bay Blvd., after receiving a call just after 8 p.m. about Lot 215 being engulfed in flames. About 30 firefighters, including some from the Safety Harbor Fire Department, extinguished the flames within 15 minutes....

    Bay Breeze Trailer Park resident Diana Meyer, left, inspects the burned-out mobile home where her neighbor was killed Tuesday. [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times]
  14. One year later, Clearwater police chief tackles crime, plans for the future

    Public Safety

    CLEARWATER — Police Chief Dan Slaughter got no easy questions during a recent community meeting at the North Greenwood recreation center.

    With a microphone in hand, he faced dozens of residents and answered many questions, including these, without hesitation: How can we make sure our youth won't be victimized by Clearwater police? What kind of training do officers receive? What is going on with body cameras?...

    Dan Slaughter became police chief on Aug. 7, 2014. “I’m very appreciative of the reception I’ve gotten from the community.”
  15. St. Petersburg man gets 15 years in prison for fatal 2013 hit-and-run

    Crime

    ST. PETERSBURG — Gloria Mastell, 67, and Roger Wurr, 71, had been in love for 20 years, traveled the world side by side, and wanted to spend the rest of their lives together.

    But that dream was shattered on Jan. 25, 2013, during an evening stroll along Coffee Pot Boulevard. Driving a Ford F-250, Timothy Michael Deacon, who had been drinking, barreled down the street, jumped the curb, and slammed into Wurr and Mastell. Deacon drove off, but officers knocked on his door in St. Petersburg that night after a witness jotted down his tag number....

    Deacon