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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. 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 Her tax returns show Social Security taxes have been withdrawn from her earnings....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, center, and her daughter, Nina Womack, 22, left, both of Dunedin, say they have been fighting for Pezzuti's rights to Social Security benefits for the last year. [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times]
  2. 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....

  3. 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....

    Police officers stand guard Wednesday near the East Lake home where authorities say 2-year-old Kaleb Ahles died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
  4. 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....

  5. 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.
  6. 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 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 reads, "In Dog We Trust." [ABC Action News]
  7. 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.’’
  8. Suspect sought in death of 82-year-old man at Clearwater mobile home park


    CLEARWATER — Detectives were searching Saturday for the suspect who killed an 82-year-old man inside his home, police said.

    On Friday at 11 p.m., officers responded to the Southgate Mobile Home Park at 20000 U.S. 19 N after receiving calls about a disturbance and gunshots at Lot 715.

    Inside, they found Allen Bradbury Usher.

    Usher, who had been shot, was taken to Northside Hospital, where he was pronounced dead, Clearwater police said....

    Police found 82-year-old Allen Bradbury Usher with a fatal gunshot wound inside his home at Southgate Mobile Home Park in Clearwater.
  9. Pinellas sheriff: Drug cases to close because informant gave drugs to dealers


    For more than a year, Anthony E. Walker tipped Pinellas County sheriff's detectives about drug dealers in St. Petersburg.

    But detectives recently discovered that Walker was supplying drugs to others who then made deals with investigators. Essentially, he was creating deals that he was helping detectives with. More than two dozen cases he was involved in will be closed, Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said....

    Anthony E. Walker is charged with drug trafficking and is being held on $90,000 bail.
  10. Slain Tarpon Springs doctor had murder conviction as a young man


    TARPON SPRINGS — It came as a shock when 74-year-old Dr. Steven Patlin Schwartz was found murdered in his home in May. He was married with five children and had built a thriving Dunedin medical practice.

    But now comes a twist: The doctor, it turns out, murdered someone himself more than 50 years earlier, according to records obtained by the Tampa Bay Times.

    Are the two crimes related? Tarpon Springs police investigators have not said. The May murder of Schwartz remains unsolved. ...

    A Pinellas County Sheriff's Office forensics specialist carries equipment to the scene where the body of Dr. Steven Patlin Schwartz (inset) was found inside his Tarpon Springs mansion on May 29. [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD   |   Times (2014)]
  11. Local law enforcement nets military supplies through controversial Pentagon program

    Public Safety

    More than a dozen Tampa Bay area law enforcement agencies have participated for years in a controversial federal program that has beefed up the region's crime-fighting arsenal but in recent months has been the focus of a debate over how much firepower police need.

    Temple Terrace police have picked up two grenade launchers through the program. The Hernando County Sheriff's Office got 200 military grade rifles. Four departments have tank-like trucks originally designed to repel roadside bombs on foreign battlefields....

    A robot is deployed by the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office SWAT team after a shooting rampage in Largo in October. The Sheriff’s Office has bought two mine-resistant ambush protected vehicles through the 1033 program.
  12. Mental health medications were an issue before ax murder, neighbor says


    OLDSMAR — A 48-year-old woman who authorities say was decapitated by her son with an ax on New Year's Eve had laced his food with the medications he refused to take, a neighbor said Friday.

    About five days before Maria Suarez-Cassagne was killed, she was walking in the neighborhood when she bumped into Despina Christodoulou, who has known the family since they moved into 1924 Sheffield Court. Property records show Suarez-Cassagne purchased the home, where she lived with her two sons and 16-year-old daughter, in 2010....

    Christian Gomez, 23, is accused of killing his mother.
  13. Man used officer's personal information to order credit cards, police say


    CLEARWATER — Police arrested a man on charges that he used a Clearwater police sergeant's personal information — obtained from his personnel file — to apply fraudulently for credit cards, according to court records obtained by the Tampa Bay Times.

    The documents also state that Daniel Holuba, 57, kept folders in his Clearwater home containing identity information for other Pinellas officers, as well as judges and prosecutors....

    Daniel Holuba faces charges of identity fraud.
  14. Law enforcement agencies warn of phone scams


    The man who claimed to be a Duke Energy representative told Weronika Giadla, owner of the Ritz Resort Motel on Clearwater Beach, she owed roughly $1,800.

    If she didn't pay within hours, he said, the power to her business, where she was hosting 20 guests at the time, would be shut off. Panicked, Giadla rushed to her office, reviewed her latest bill and realized her account was up to date. She called Duke Energy directly, which confirmed she didn't miss any payments. Giadla called police....

  15. Witness recounts Tarpon Springs officer shooting


    TARPON SPRINGS — Evelyn Desiree Santiago knew Marco Antonio Parilla Jr. was on probation, that he was once in prison.

    But she didn't know he had a gun until Parilla walked toward her with his head down in the parking lot of a Tarpon Springs apartment complex early Sunday morning. When he looked up, Santiago turned around to see what Parilla was staring at and saw Officer Charles Kondek holding a gun....