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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

  1. Clearwater police's AmeriCorps program to end next year

    Public Safety

    CLEARWATER — Joseph White is not yet a police officer, but for the past three years, the St. Petersburg College student has directed traffic at crash scenes, helped drivers with disabled cars, and shadowed officers on patrol.

    White, 21, is among 13 members participating this year in the Clearwater Police Department's AmeriCorps program, where for 20 years college students have gained law enforcement experience. It is the only AmeriCorps program in the state dedicated to public safety....

  2. Police blotter: Man accused of stealing Walmart motorized cart



    Man accused of stealing motorized cart from walmart

    Officers arrested a 55-year-old man accused of leaving a Walmart with one of the store's motorized carts, an arrest report says.

    Police found Dale Robertson with the cart, valued at $3,000, on U.S. 19 about a mile away from the Walmart at 8001 U.S. 19 N.

    Robertson was jailed Sept. 18 on a charge of retail theft....

  3. Arrest reports: Man tried to pry open beer coolers at sports bar


    ST. PETERSBURG — It was about 5:30 a.m. when Ferg's Sports Bar's video surveillance captured a man crawling toward the beer coolers, arrest reports state.

    The man, later identified as Gary Rhaney, 48, was trying to pry open the coolers with screwdrivers on Sept. 1. Employees who were in the bar at the time found him, reports say.

    The St. Petersburg man was arrested on charges of burglary and possession of burglary tools....

  4. Lawsuit claims Tarpon Springs home was built in wrong place


    TARPON SPRINGS — The house was supposed to be Dunedin fire paramedic Jean Ulloa's three-bedroom, two-bathroom dream home, just one block away from Lake Tarpon.

    But nearly two years after construction halted, the unfinished cinder block structure with a tattered roof has turned into a nightmare for residents on Meyer Lane.

    While neighbors complained to the city about the property's condition, Ulloa sued the contractors and surveyors he hired to build his home, claiming in a complaint filed in July that the house was built 17 feet from its intended location, encroaching on a public alley on the property's east side....

    Sample jewelry on display at the Belle of the Ball projects store.  -  The Belle of the Ball Project again will provide Homecoming dresses and accessories including jewelry and shoes to in-need, low-income high school girls on four Saturdays this fall. The dates are: September 12, September 26, October 10, and October 24, 2015, at its new boutique location,1210 Holt Avenue, (in the media center of the empty school)Clearwater. The hours are 10am to 2 pm.. The charity is no longer located in the Seminole Mall. Dresses are available to all greater Tampa Bay area in-need, high school girls only. They use the honor system. No referral letter is necessary. No appointment needed. A $1 to $5 donation is requested but not necessary. For low-income, in-need, high school girls attending high school dances only. Girls will get one dress and two pieces of jewelry. Belle of the Ball`s mission statement is Ã’No girl should be denied the opportunity to attend her high school dance because of financial difficulty" Since 2003, almost 4,300 dresses have been given to needy girls in 11 area counties. (Donations of dresses and accessories can also be made at the distributions, dates/times listed above or any Sun Country Cleaners. For other convenient year-round donation sites and more information about Belle of the Ball Project call 727-386-4502 or visit their web site: www.belleoftheballproject.com or Facebook at Belle of the Ball.)
  5. A family mourns cancellation of 'Sábado Gigante'

    The Feed

    The news jumped out at me from Twitter. I stared for several seconds in disbelief.

    This wasn't the kind of thing I could shout across a newsroom cubicle and expect anyone to understand. It required a call home, to the one person who would know exactly how I felt.

    Word had traveled fast.

    "Did you hear?" asked my 92-year-old Cuban grandmother in that hushed voice she reserves for announcing the death of a distant relative....

    Laura C. Morel and her S?bado Gigante-loving grandmother, Gricelia Mas, around 1995.
  6. 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....

  7. Police say man ate stolen chicken in Publix restroom



    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....

  8. 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....

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


    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....

  10. 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)
  11. Appeals court overturns 65-year sentences for Bloomingdale Library rapist


    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. 
  12. Jurors deliberate in Oldsmar double-murder trial


    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.
  13. Jurors begin deliberating in Oldsmar double murder trial


    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....

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


    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.
  15. Mysterious informer helps dealership recover its stolen cars


    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.