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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. Slain Tarpon Springs officer remembered as good cop, family man


    TARPON SPRINGS — By day, "Charlie K" was a good dad. By night, he was known as a good cop.

    Tarpon Springs police Officer Charles Kondek worked the midnight shift so that he could watch his 15-year-old daughter Aleena's soccer practices and travel around with her wherever she played.

    Kondek, 45, was a family man, and she was his youngest child. She had just gotten her learner's permit and her father was teaching her how to drive....

    Flowers are placed on a police car near the scene of the shooting of Officer Charles Kondek in Tarpon Springs on Sunday. Kondek, a 17-year veteran of the local police department and originally from New York, was shot and killed in Tarpon Springs early Sunday responding to a call shortly after 2 a.m. [Monica Herndon   |   Times]

  2. Suspect charged in Tarpon Springs police officer's slaying (w/video)




    It was routine call, a car stereo blaring at 2 a.m. Sunday.

    Officer Charles Kondek, a veteran of the overnight shift, was the first to respond to the small apartment buildings in Tarpon Springs.

    Moments later, he lay dying in the parking lot, shot in the chest and run over as the suspect sped away.

    The shooter, Marco Antonio Parilla Jr., was caught after a short car chase, investigators said. The 23-year-old with an extensive criminal record including 30 felony charges was wanted for violating probation and told investigators he didn't want to go back to prison. He faces a first-degree murder charge....

    Investigators with the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office collect evidence Sunday at Glen’s Eureka Apartments, where seven bullets were fired at Tarpon Springs police Officer Charles Kondek.
  3. Two other unsolved hit-and-runs from a deadly holiday season


    In 2004 during the holidays, several other families lost loved ones in hit-and-run crashes that remain unsolved.

    Among the dead is Victoria D'Addio, a 5-year-old Connecticut girl who was crossing Gulf Boulevard in St. Pete Beach with her mother when a white mid-sized sedan fatally struck her on Nov. 23, just two days before Thanksgiving.

    "I need somebody to come forward so I can feel closure on my end because somebody out there killed my little girl," her mother, Anne D'Addio, told the St. Petersburg Times at the time. "I need to know that person has been found. I want my baby back."...

    Family photographs show Ralph Kemmerer and his three children. He was killed 10 years ago by a hit-and-run driver on Ulmerton Road in Largo.  The driver was never found.
  4. Ten years later, unsolved fatal crash still hurts family


    LARGO — Every Christmas Eve, Kim Palfy reads her only daughter's favorite book, The Polar Express, and eats the sugar cookies she loved to bake.

    She takes out Jacquelyn Palfy's presents, but her daughter has never opened her gifts. They were wrapped 10 years ago, just days before she died at age 20 on Dec. 19, 2004, during a road rage crash on Missouri Avenue.

    The driver sped away and police never found him, but Jacquelyn's mother finds comfort in remembering her daughter's life: the little girl who took her rag doll to slumber parties, the teenager who played on a boys soccer team, the young woman who longed to be a wife and a mom....

    “I believe in karma. You know, they have to live with the consequences of their actions and nonactions,” says Kim Palfy.
  5. Man who shot woman in Largo murder-suicide had previously been charged with trying to kill her


    LARGO — Helping people was Rochelle Tatrai's job. The CEO of a nonprofit with 600 employees, she advocated for children in broken families, the mentally handicapped, and most recently unaccompanied youngsters who crossed the U.S.-Mexico border.

    But Tatrai also needed help. She was shot dead Thursday by the same man who police said beat her with a metal baseball bat and threatened to kill her 12 years ago....

    Rochelle Tatrai refused to testify against her partner, Sean Ray, in court.
  6. 16-year-old finds parents shot dead in Largo home (w/video)


    LARGO — A 16-year-old girl arrived home Thursday afternoon to find the bodies of her parents, who died in what police are calling a murder-suicide.

    About 2:30 p.m., she arrived at 13156 Thoroughbred Loop and discovered Rochelle Tatrai and Sean Ray, both 46, dead of apparent gunshot wounds, Largo police said. She went outside and flagged down a utility worker, who called 911.

    Tatrai was the president and CEO of Gulf Coast Jewish Family and Community Services, recently in the news as it sought to expand a Pasco County shelter to accommodate young immigrant boys fleeing violence in South and Central America....

    Largo police gather outside the townhome just south of Ulmerton Road where the bodies were discovered.
  7. 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....

  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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. 
  11. 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....

    Clearwater Police officers, detectives and other personnel are distributing fliers (pictured) with a pixelated image of a dark colored SUV, captured on video surveillance from a nearby Hooters, seeking assistance from the public in finding the driver of a hit-and-run vehicle that left the scene of a fatal crash. [JIM DAMASKE   |   Times]
  12. 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....

  13. 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. 
  14. 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....

  15. 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.