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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. Deputy involved in traffic crash in Clearwater

    Accidents

    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....

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

    Crime

    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.
  3. Detectives uncover pill smuggling at the Pinellas County Jail

    Crime

    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....

  4. Baby injured in Largo crash dies, police say

    Accidents

    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....

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

    Crime

    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."...

    “He did not know he was going the wrong way … At one point he told me he was in Pinellas Park.” Kim Kilian, Pinellas County sheriff’s deputy
  6. Drug trafficking suspect used Safety Harbor post office, authorities say

    Crime

    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....

    Sheriff’s officials say Delaet picked up a package of heroin from a P.O. box at the Safety Harbor Post Office on Sept. 19.
  7. Heroin gaining ground among addicts in Tampa Bay

    Crime

    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, wears tattoos on her  arms and fingers that serve as reminders of when she was a heavy user of prescription drugs and then heroin.  [OCTAVIO JONES   |   Times]
  8. 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."...

    Pinellas Sheriff’s Deputy Sheila Langlais, center, and Largo Police Officer Lance Moore, right, role play with Cedric Taylor, who was pretending to be a distraught person.
  9. Four arrested on racketeering charges in Pinellas

    Crime

    Authorities arrested four people Wednesday morning in connection to a drug and prostitution ring after a 16-month investigation.

    Investigators received several tips in July 2013 accusing Robert Earl Wyche, 60, of recruiting and prostituting several women that he encountered at local motels, the Pinellas County jail, and Backpage.com.

    Detectives discovered that Wyche apparently offered them shelter and drugs as long as they prostituted themselves. He also threatened the women, seven in all, if they wanted to leave and assaulted the women if they did not comply with his rules, the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office said....

  10. Clearwater fire lieutenant resigns after admitting to having sex in station

    Public Safety

    CLEARWATER — Following the resignation of a fire lieutenant who admitted to having sex while on duty, city officials recommended in a report that cameras be installed outside the fire stations.

    Clearwater Fire & Rescue chief Robert Weiss first learned of Lt. Stephen Coward's unreported visitors at Fire Station 51 in August after receiving a package containing an anonymous letter and a flash drive with 40 emails between Coward and a woman. The package also contained a video of the lieutenant and a woman in the station....

    Lt. Stephen Coward resigned after admitting he had sex with women inside his station while on duty.
  11. Police: Clearwater wrestling coach accused of hitting students had a history of similar claims

    Crime

    After catching the student smoking a cigarette, Scott Stern told him he had three options.

    Stern could call his mother, or the boy could choose the hard way or the mental way, according to police records.

    On that morning in 1998, the Pinellas Park High student chose the mental way. He later told police Stern ordered him to strip naked, hold a ruler on his head, and called him an idiot, records state....

    Scott Stern, 45, coached at Clearwater Central Catholic High.
  12. Clearwater Central Catholic wrestling coach charged with hitting two students

    Crime

    CLEARWATER — A wrestling coach arrested Tuesday on charges that he hit two students after forcing them to strip naked was previously investigated for similar claims, the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office said.

    Scott Stern, who worked at Clearwater Central Catholic High School for 12 years, faces two counts of battery.

    Detectives believe there may be other victims.

    "It's sick stuff," said Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri. "There's all kinds of real heavy sexual overtones with this."...

    Scott Stern, 45, worked at Clearwater Central Catholic High.
  13. Largo shooter had complained about neighbor he fatally shot, Sheriff's Office says

    Crime

    LARGO — Nicholas Lowery had plans: He wanted to marry his girlfriend, get promoted and start a family.

    But on Monday morning, as he and his two roommates left the apartment on a cul-de-sac off Seminole Boulevard, next-door neighbor Thomas Malooly, 77, fired shots into the parking lot, killing Lowery.

    Malooly later killed himself inside his home, the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office said. No one else was hurt....

    Nicholas Lowery, 29, was killed by his neighbor, who then killed himself, Pinellas deputies say.
  14. Clearwater men accused in $200,000 counterfeiting scheme

    Crime

    CLEARWATER — They used glitter pens, eight printers, and creamy resume paper to concoct a sophisticated counterfeiting scheme that spanned from a Clearwater Beach apartment to a North Carolina hotel room, police said.

    Michael Scott Miller, 28, and Nicolas Secor, 20, are accused of producing nearly $200,000 in fake $100 bills and were arrested last month after an investigation involving several agencies, including the U.S. Secret Service....

    The operation, as described by police, was highly elaborate and involved using eight printers for each bill. [Clearwater Police Department]
  15. Police: Thief stocking up on truck batteries

    Crime

    PINELLAS PARK — The batteries began disappearing in September from scrapyards, rental truck lots, tree-trimming businesses and moving companies.

    By the end of the month, more than 100 batteries from dozens of trucks were missing in the commercial area near 126th Avenue N and 49th Street, police said.

    "The amount of thefts and burglaries we were experiencing was becoming overwhelming," said Pinellas Park spokesman Sgt. Adam Geissenberger. "It was at that point that we decided to conduct surveillance."...

    Barry Weidner, 65