Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Story leads to identification of Bradenton hit and run victim

Former Miami Herald crime reporter Edna Buchanan once said, "Putting it in the newspaper works."

That held very true on Saturday when I was out covering a minor crash on the DeSoto Bridge. I had just started my shift, heard about backed up traffic ("like a parking lot," an officer said) on the scanner, and headed over to check it out.

Bradenton police Sgt. Eddie Weldon filled me in on the details of the collision. He then told me about a fatal hit and run in the early hours of Saturday in the 1700 block of 17th Avenue West.

There were no witnesses. No description of the car. And what's more, the victim, pronounced dead at the scene, couldn't be identified. Police couldn't find an I.D. on him and his fingerprints didn't come up on their database, Weldon said.

But the unknown man had several tattoos. Weldon sent me photographs of the victim's inked arms and chest. I described the most unique ones -- a heart with the name "Cathy" and a skull wearing a cowboy hat -- in the brief that ran the next day.

The man's family read the brief, called Weldon, and identified the victim as 46-year-old William Ray Perri. 

Buchanan knows what she's talking about. She has a Pulitzer Prize to prove it.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Bradenton Herald story on 'buy-back' suspect goes viral

By Laura C. Morel
Crime/Immigration Reporter

Today, I was bursting with pride for the Bradenton Herald as one of our stories made national headlines.

On Thursday before I left work, night metro editor Jim DeLa said my story about the armed robber who asked to buy his own gun back would make national headlines.

"Really?" I told him.

But he was right. The Miami Herald, our sister paper, had it posted on their homepage in the morning.

The news website,, also featured it in their array of quirky stories.

And last, but definitely not least, MSNBC had our story on its homepage this afternoon. But they made one mistake: they credited the Miami Herald instead of our paper because they grabbed the story from the South Florida paper's website.

I called and e-mailed MSNBC. Within about an hour, the correction was made. And our paper, the one and only Bradenton Herald, was credited.

Click here to see the MSNBC write-up.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The story behind the story

By Laura C. Morel
Crime/Immigration Reporter

Knocking on the door of a person who just lost a loved one never gets easier.

I’ve covered shootings, drownings, traffic crashes, the list goes on, during my very short career as a reporter. But talking to grieving relatives always gives me goose bumps.

It happened today after I spoke to Toni Dunbar about her slain son on the doorsteps of her Bradenton home.

After identifying myself as a reporter and saying that I just wanted to learn more about her son, she stepped outside and took the time to chat with me for a few minutes.

She spoke of her 26-year-old son’s favorite foods, hobbies and the last words he said to her before leaving home and driving to his death in Palmetto.

One tear rolled down her cheek. “I really wasn’t expecting for them to tell me that he died.”

I walked away with goose bumps on the back of my neck.

Reactions of grieving relatives vary. Sometimes, I sparingly ask questions, letting the person talk uninterrupted. Other times, I carefully nudge them with questions. Some will cry and feel comfortable enough to hug me at the end of an interview. Others will hold their tears and barely glance at me.

Whenever a relative takes the time to open up and talk about their lost loved one, I’m eternally grateful. Because of relatives who decide to talk, reporters are able to tell better, more well-rounded stories.

Those are the stories that matter the most: the ones that not only tell what happened to someone, but also provide a glimpse into a life just lost.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

A warning to Florida's aggressive drivers

By Laura C. Morel
Crime/Immigration Reporter

Here's hoping Florida's road rage drivers get this memo:

The Florida Highway Patrol will be keeping an eye out for aggressive car and truck drivers between Feb. 27 and Feb. 29 during its education and enforcement campaign.

Among the violations: following another car too closely and unsafe lane changing and speeding, a media release said.

Violators will be ticketed.

Drivers' actions are the cause of 88 percent of crashes, according to the release, and 12 percent are caused by road conditions, car defects or weather.

The campaign also includes billboard and radio messages promoting safe driving, and the Florida Trucking Association will also visit schools and community centers statewide to educate drivers on how to drive safely near trucks, the release said.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

News magnet

By Laura C. Morel
Crime/Immigration Reporter

Friday was a wet, cold night. I was doing a ridealong with a Manatee County Sheriff's Office sergeant.

We were heading down a rain-slicked 14th Street West when we spotted two cars and a tow truck stopped at the light on 49th Avenue West.

I kept a few steps back as the sergeant got to work. As I walked closer, I saw a small man face down on the pavement. The sergeant held onto the man's neck to keep it in place and feel his pulse.

Witnesses said the man was kicked out of the Hooters restaurant on the corner and wandered into oncoming traffic. He was struck by the tow truck.

Moments later, an ambulance arrived and paramedics placed the man in a stretcher, carried him into the back, and bolted to Blake Medical Center.

With notepad in hand, I jotted down all the details and called Richard Dymond, our night cops reporter, to read him the information for the website.

As a reporter, I spend every day chasing the news.

But on Friday night, I guess it found me.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Reporting from the Manatee courthouse next week

By Laura C. Morel
Crime/Immigration Reporter

The trial of Gregory Kennon, charged with first-degree murder and armed robbery, begins next week.

On Monday, Feb. 13, jury selection will begin and the trial should start Tuesday.

On July 11, 2009, Kennon and two others allegedly barged into an apartment in DeSoto Village Apartments and fired shots. One gunshot struck Crystal Johnson, who was six months pregnant, in the chest. She and her unborn baby died.

Johnson's boyfriend fired at the gunmen before they ran away. Blood found at the scene matched Kennon's DNA.

Visit the Bradenton Herald for trial coverage. You can also look for the hashtag #KennonTrial on Twitter.

For regular updates on Manatee crime and immigration news, follow me @lauracmorel

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Florida Highway Patrol to drivers: Move over!

By Laura C. Morel
Crime/Immigration Reporter

"Law enforcement officers will be out in force, issuing citations for violations, so drivers beware!"

That was the message the Florida Highway Patrol released Friday as the agency joins forces with two other states to keep an eye out for Move Over law violators.

The Move Over law, established about 10 years ago, requires drivers to move to the next lane when there is an officer or any other emergency vehicle with flashing lights on the side of the road. If the driver can't switch lanes, then they must drive 20 miles per hour below the speed limit in that area.

Fun fact: Washington D.C. and Hawaii are the only areas that don't have this law.

Since 1999, more than 170 officers have died in the United States after being struck by a car, the release said, and thousands have been injured.

The Alabama Department of Public Safety and the Georgia State Patrol are also part of the month-long initiative.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Warehouse fire was false alarm

By Laura C. Morel
Crime/Immigration Reporter

Seconds after entering the newsroom today, editor Marc Masferrer sent me out to a warehouse fire in the 6400 block of 14th Street West.

I jumped back into my car and bolted to the scene, hoping to catch the battalion chief to fill me in on details.

When I arrived and speed-walked to where the firefighters were chatting, they all looked up and smiled.

It was a training exercise, they said.

At first, I thought they were pulling my tail. But it was true. Fifteen firefighters, from districts such as Cedar Hammock Fire Rescue, Southern Manatee Fire &; Rescue, and West Manatee Fire &; Rescue, were involved in the training exercise that began at 9 a.m. on Thursday.

"We do everything we normally do," said Battalion Chief and training officer Leigh T. Hollins.

And on Thursday, they'll be training at the warehouse again.

So if you live nearby the warehouse and see puffs of smoke, don't be alarmed. It's just a few firefighters learning the ropes.