Tony Bizjak

Back-seat Driver: Scammer poses as freeway helper, CHP says

Published: Friday, Feb. 1, 2013 - 1:15 pm | Page 1B
Last Modified: Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2013 - 8:24 pm

California Highway Patrol officials say they have tracked down a guy who was pretending to be a Freeway Service Patrol worker along Interstate 5 and conning drivers out of money.

The arrest ends a doubly dangerous little scam. The fellow, wearing an official-looking jacket, would pull up to stalled motorists on the freeway and offer help, saying he was with the California Highway Patrol. He'd collect some money for parts, and then drive off, never to be seen again.

CHP officials say the service patrol, sponsored by the CHP and state Department of Transportation, uses clearly marked tow trucks and pickup trucks. Service patrol employees will give drivers a gallon of gas, if needed, as well as change tires, tape up leaking hoses, refill radiators and jump-start vehicles. If necessary, they will tow cars to specially designated CHP sites, not to private shops.

And they don't ask for money.

Street sign squinting

Reader Roger Bendix, a Sacramento County resident, is perplexed. He's seen county workers replacing street name signs with new versions that no longer are in all capital letters. The new body lettering is, to his eyes, a little harder to read.

What's up, he asks? And at what cost?

The story starts in Washington, D.C. A few years ago, the feds decided to require cities and counties to switch to street sign styles that would be easier for older drivers to read and more reflective at night.

The combination of upper and lower case letters apparently creates contrast that makes lettering stand out. The feds later backed off on deadlines for getting that done, recognizing that local governments are facing tough economic times.

But Sacramento County officials – seeing the writing on the wall – are slowly switching out old signs in residential areas so they won't have to scramble later to comply.

By doing it incrementally, they make it part of their regular maintenance and repair budget, said John Ronkowski, a senior maintenance manager.

But as reader Bendix reports, legibility is in the eye of the beholder: "The new signs are harder to see."

The county's Ronkowski said he understands.

"I can see the contrast," he said. "It works. But you might say, 'Ah, that looks better' or not."

Super Bowl fallout

State highway safety officials are concerned about what will happen on the roads this Sunday – Super Bowl evening – especially in Northern California, 49er country, where there will be plenty of parties, each filled with anxious and excited fans who just might in fact over-imbibe.

Designate your own personal sober driver, someone to stand on the sidelines, so to speak, kind of like poor Alex Smith. Remember, it's a team game.

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