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

  1. Man acquitted in 2011 Clearwater slaying

    Criminal

    LARGO — A jury acquitted a 39-year-old man accused of shooting another man in the head in Clearwater nearly three years ago.

    In June 2011, Casey Garber's body was found behind the closed Dogwater Cafe in Clearwater near Countryside Mall. Michael McKinney was charged with first-degree murder in Garber's slaying.

    A jury on Tuesday found Mc­Kinney not guilty of murder, but did return guilty verdicts on other charges related to the case. He is scheduled to be sentenced April 25....

    Michael McKinney was charged with first-degree murder in the slaying of Casey Garber.
  2. Pinellas child predator sting nets 18 men

    Crime

    CLEARWATER — Miguel Angel Garcia of Tampa thought he was traveling to Clearwater to meet with a 14-year-old girl he messaged online for sex. Instead, he was arrested and charged with traveling to meet a minor.

    But just hours after being released on $5,000 bail from the Pinellas County Jail, Garcia, 33, was seeking sex from girls in chat rooms again, Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said. He is among the "plethora" of predators seeking sex from minors online, he said....

    Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri looks over laminated posters of suspects apprehended in Operation Guardian, a four-day undercover operation in which a joint force of officers arrested 18 men from across the Tampa Bay area who were allegedly seeking sex with minors.
  3. Jeweler is victim of theft during Tarpon Springs festival

    Crime

    TARPON SPRINGS — For 40 years, John Mroczek has been creating silver and gold jewelry embedded with stones, from diamonds and pearls to emeralds. For a decade, he and his wife, Denise, who live near South Bend, Ind., have sold his jewelry at the annual Tarpon Springs Fine Arts Festival in Craig Park.

    After the first day of this year's festival, April 5, John and his son stowed the merchandise in a large compartment inside their Honda Odyssey. They spent the night at a friend's house in Tarpon Springs, Denise said....

  4. Judge orders Clearwater jeweler to pay for pilfering gold, jewels

    Crime

    CLEARWATER — Before customers see the jewelry displayed inside glass cases at Bradley Harris' jewelry store, they are greeted by a mug shot of a man who once worked there.

    "Business Alert!" is scrawled above Norris Smith's booking photo, taken at the Pinellas County jail the day police say he admitted stealing money, diamonds and gold from Harris while he worked at the store for about six months....

    Norris Smith is on five years of probation on charges of scheme to defraud and grand theft.
  5. Video: Internet abuzz over topless woman who trashed McDonald's in Pinellas Park

    Bizarre News

    PINELLAS PARK — A video of a topless woman vandalizing a McDonald's went viral Tuesday.

    The news aggregation website Drudge Report linked readers to an article on Breitbart.com with a video showing the "agitated" woman inside the restaurant it said was in St. Petersburg.

    But the ruckus actually happened March 24 at a Pinellas Park McDonald's.

    Sandra Suarez, 41, was walking on 66th Street N about 10:50 p.m. that night clad only in bikini bottoms and clutching the rest of her clothes in one hand, according to Pinellas Park police. She went into the McDonald's at 10191 66th St. N, where an employee asked her to put her clothes on....

    Sandra Suarez is accused of ransacking a McDonald’s.
  6. Indictment of wife reveals details in 2008 Clearwater slaying

    Crime

    CLEARWATER — Rebecca Ayn Fenton held a knife to Alfred Nolen's throat and threatened to kill him just as she had killed her husband, according to court records.

    Nolen, who lived with Fenton in the past, didn't report the confrontation to police. It wasn't until a Clearwater homicide detective interviewed him that Nolen reported the threat.

    These and other details were revealed in an indictment released to the Tampa Bay Times after Fenton, 46, was arrested March 21 in connection to the 2008 slaying of her husband, Larry Fenton....

    Rebecca Fenton is charged with first-degree murder in the shooting of her husband, Larry Fenton.
  7. Testimony begins in Clearwater murder trial

    Crime

    CLEARWATER — The call came in just after midnight on Christopher Mickey's phone.

    "I did it," Michael McKinney told him.

    Just weeks before, McKinney had told Mickey he wanted to know what it felt like to kill someone. He mentioned Casey Garber, their mutual acquaintance, as a possible target.

    Mickey thought he was joking.

    But the following day, a woman walking her dog at the Clearwater Executive Golf Course on Countryside Boulevard found Garber's body behind the closed Dogwater Cafe....

    Michael McKinney, 39, is charged with first-degree murder in a 2011 shooting death.
  8. Family members battle for custody of child after father accused of murder

    Courts

    CLEARWATER — The custody of a 7-year-old girl remains uncertain a month after her father was accused of killing her grandmother at their Clearwater home.

    The girl's mother, Tracey Lohoski, and grandfather Edward Lohoski are fighting each other for custody after 34-year-old Matthew Lohoski, Tracey's ex-husband and the child's father, killed his 59-year-old mother, Deborah, in the back yard of her home at 1709 El Trinidad Drive E in Clearwater while the girl played inside, police said....

  9. Experts check for environmental contamination at Palm Harbor fire scene

    Fire

    PALM HARBOR — While authorities investigate the blaze that destroyed part of a storage facility early Wednesday, state officials are taking precautions to ensure the fire did not cause any environmental damage.

    Firefighters responded to the Florida West Covered Storage facility at 4470 Alt. U.S. 19 about 12:30 a.m. Wednesday. Explosions and multiple fires sparked as crews tried to control the three-alarm fire, authorities said....

  10. NTSB says pilot reported fuel emergency, hit power lines in crash

    Accidents

    SAFETY HARBOR — The National Transportation Safety Board has released a preliminary report on the plane crash on McMullen-Booth Road early Saturday that killed the pilot and his 15-year-old daughter and seriously injured another passenger.

    According to the report, the Piper PA-28 left John C. Tune Airport in Nashville just before midnight Friday.

    About 4 a.m. Saturday, the pilot, Jeffrey Bronken, was attempting to make a "forced landing" on McMullen-Booth Road, just 6 miles north of his destination, St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport....

  11. Dreams go up in smoke at Palm Harbor storage facility

    Fire

    PALM HARBOR — Dan Ferrans and his wife, Sue, were looking forward to what they called "the dream" — retiring within the next three years and venturing on road trips in their 38-foot Damon Challenger RV.

    The Palm Harbor couple kept their RV at Florida West Covered Storage, a place equipped with security cameras, key pad entrances and tall black gates where others also sheltered the incarnations of their dreams: big boats, babied classic cars, luxurious recreational vehicles....

    A fire broke out just after midnight and destroyed a 30,000-square-foot facility used to store RVs, boats and cars at Florida West Covered RV and Boat Storage in Palm Harbor.
  12. Painting the town: Painting parties are spreading around Tampa Bay

    Human Interest

    SAFETY HARBOR

    Heidi Heine sat before the empty canvas and got to work. She dipped a brush in orange paint and swiftly spread it in vertical strokes.

    On her own, she has painted palm trees, water scenes and flowers. But when she spotted a Groupon deal online for a Paint Nite event at Copperheads Tap House in Safety Harbor, she signed up despite the one-hour drive from her Palmetto home....

    Taking advantage of a Groupon deal, Heidi Heine of Palmetto drove an hour to Copperheads Tap House in Safety Harbor to participate in Paint Nite. “It takes you away from the stress of a job,” she said of painting.
  13. Once-planned Rock 'n' Roll B&B sold in St. Petersburg auction

    Human Interest

    ST. PETERSBURG — Atop the front entrance of the nine-bedroom bungalow on Fifth Avenue N was a metal sign that read "Rock N Roll."

    Reality star Brent Bruns II had visions of turning the 1910 wood-frame house, with its two stories and spacious front porch, into a bed and breakfast.

    But while he filmed episodes in South Carolina of the now-defunct show Doomsday Castle, about a family building a castle to serve as a bunker in the event of doomsday, Bruns fell behind on mortgage payments. Then came the foreclosure....

    The psychedelic room was in a back section on the property in St. Petersburg.
  14. Clearwater police make arrest in 2008 homicide

    Crime

    CLEARWATER — Police arrested a Clearwater woman Friday evening who they said killed her husband more than six years ago.

    About 5 p.m., officers arrested Rebecca Ayn Fenton, 46, at the Capri Mobile Home Park near Sunset Point Road and U.S. 19. The arrest came soon after a Pinellas grand jury indicted Fenton on a first-degree murder charge in connection with the death of her husband, Larry Fenton, 57. ...

    Rebecca Fenton is charged with first-degree murder in the 2008 death of her husband. This booking mug is from a 2010 DUI arrest.
  15. Pinellas sheriff changes transport policy following investigation of detainee's beating

    Public Safety

    LARGO — An officer found Thomas Morrow drunk and asleep on a bench in Treasure Island last July.

    Morrow hadn't committed a crime, but he was placed under protective custody because of his condition and was put into a Pinellas County Jail transport van occupied by a man who had.

    A few miles from the jail, Morrow was beaten by the other detainee and sustained severe brain injuries, a collapsed lung and fractured ribs, authorities said. He remained hospitalized and bedridden until his death Sept. 12....

    Sheriff Bob Gualtieri says the change is a “better practice.”