Drivers who speed a little bit through selected school zones on the Florida Keys Overseas Highway during the holidays might get an onion from the Grinch instead of a traffic citation.
Monroe County Sheriff’s Colonel Lou Caputo donned the Grinch costume Tuesday afternoon and stood side-by-side with other officers as they aimed a radar speed detector at cars traveling by a local elementary school.
He said he portrays the fictional character created by children’s author Dr. Seuss to give motorists a “gift” and to call attention in a nice way to the need to obey speed limits in school zones.
“It’s about education, awareness that our school zones are still operating, even though it’s the holiday season,” Caputo said. “We want people to be aware of that, and we want them to slow down.”
Caputo and sheriff’s deputies have been staging Grinch speed enforcement details in selected Keys school zones for 20 years.
Drivers who travel around 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, 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.
“It catches them off guard, Caputo said. “So when I present the onion to them, they’re contemplating what to do.
“But when I give them a clear choice of a citation or the onion, they will take the onion,” he said. “And I’ve had them eat the onion right in front of me.”
Keys schools remain in session through Dec. 16.