Drivers who speed a just little through certain school zones on U.S.1 in the Florida Keys during the holidays might just get an onion from the Grinch instead of a traffic citation.
Maj. Lou Caputo from the Monroe County Sheriff's Office wears the Grinch costume and often aims 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.
Motorists caught by the Grinch who travel about 5 mph or less above the school zone speed limit can choose between traffic citations and aged onions presented by the Grinch. Those speeding beyond that get a 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 surprises the driver, provides a light-hearted — but serious —verbal warning and then offers the choice between a citation or an onion.
Caputo said inspiration to wear the costume came shortly after the live-action movie starring Jim Carrey came out.
"The Grinch is a lovable creature, so I thought this would be a great thing to do," Caputo said. "To do it in a school zone, so that people will see you."
Anthony Martin, a Keys visitor from Barnegat, N.J., was one of several drivers waved off the highway Tuesday afternoon opposite Stanley Switlik Elementary School in Marathon.
"I'll take the onion anytime," said Martin, while kissing the vegetable the Grinch gave him. "I appreciate it and I will respect the speed limit from now on."
Caputo, 63, also wears the costume to preschool and elementary functions.