Ma-cho, ma-cho man

| 8/1/2002

In Florida, things aren't what they seem ... neither are the construction workers. In Operation Hard Hat, the state troopers recently went undercover, cleverly posing as construction workers along I-95 in Nassau and St. Johns counties to nab work zone speeders. Interstate 95 has been undergoing construction to add additional lanes in Nassau, Duval and St. Johns counties for the past year and will be continuing for the next few years.

Shrewdly dressed as a highway construction worker, Lt. Tim Spaulding posed as a surveyor alongside the highway in the construction zones and used his radar gun to clock vehicles as they traveled through the area. Speeding motorists then were pulled over and issued citations by waiting motorcycle troopers. During a total of four hours, a total of 88 citations were issued in Nassau and St. Johns counties.

The troopers say the special operation was started because several crashes have occurred in these areas over the past few months, including the death of construction worker Carl Lobenthal of Lake City, FL, on July 23, 2002, in St. Johns County. According to a Jacksonville Times-Union newspaper article about the operation, the 19-year-old worker stepped into the path of an oncoming semi and no charges were filed against the truckdriver.

The Highway Patrol says it may expand the operation to other areas of Florida in the future. The newspaper reported the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office pulled off a similar operation in 1999. During "Operation You Never Know," officers posed as homeless, stranded motorists and construction workers to catch drivers speeding and running red lights. What's next? Two-legged alligators?
-- René Tankersley, feature editor