MARATHON, Florida Keys -- 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 Tuesday afternoon and stood side-by-side with other deputies as they aimed a radar speed gun at cars traveling by Stanley Switlik Elementary School.
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 details in selected Keys school zones for about 15 years.
Drivers who travel about 5 mph or less above the school zone’s 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 the driver’s license. If all is in order, the deputy asks the motorist to wait in the car. That’s when the Grinch makes his appearance to chat with the often-startled driver, reinforce the reason for the traffic stop and then offer the choice between a citation and an onion.
"I came up with this idea after the movie 'The Grinch' with Jim Carey (premiered)," Caputo said. "And I thought what a great gift that would be to dress up as the Grinch and go out in the school zone and instead of giving tickets we'd give onions."
Despite the holiday humor, Caputo said there is a serious side to the unusual traffic enforcement project.
"We want people to be aware they’re in the school zone and there are dangers with our kids out in school and we don't want them at risk," Caputo said. "So slow it down when you’re in a school zone."