Motorists who speed a little bit through selected school zones on the Florida Keys Overseas Highway during the holidays might just get an onion from the Grinch instead of a traffic citation.
Colonel Lou Caputo, of the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office, donned the Grinch costume Wednesday and aimed a radar speed gun accompanied by other officers. He says he portrays the fictional character created by children’s author Dr. Seuss to give motorists a “gift,” but also to call attention in a nice way to the need to obey speed limits in school zones.
Caputo and Sheriff’s Office deputies have been staging Grinch speed enforcement actions in selected Keys school zones for more than 15 years.
Drivers caught by the Grinch who travel about 5 mph or less above the school zone speed limit can choose between traffic citations and odorous onions presented by the Grinch. Those speeding beyond that will likely get a costly ticket.
When a car is pulled over, uniformed deputies approach the driver to check the vehicle’s license plate and driver’s license. If all is in order, the Grinch chats with the often-startled driver, reinforces the reason for the traffic stop and then offers the choice between a citation and an onion.
Caputo said inspiration to don the costume came shortly after the live-action movie premiered, starring Jim Carrey as the onion-eating, cantankerous character.
“What we try to make the drivers aware is that they are in fact in a school zone and that they’re going too fast,” Caputo said. “And since it’s the holiday season we try to bring a little humor to it and make it a little light.
“Their reaction is, it’s happy to get an onion, and there’s a relief on their face,” Caputo said. “It’s just priceless.”
Max Kilgore, a Louisiana resident who was visiting the Keys Wednesday on his motorcycle, got an onion opposite Stanley Switlik Elementary School.
“I didn’t think they (deputies) were gonna’ be too happy with me,” Kilgore said. “But the Grinch’s heart grew three times this Christmas and he gave me an onion instead of a ticket, so I am very grateful.
“It’s a Christmas miracle,” he said.