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Forget the Jaws of Life. Get the Hook.

May 07, 2000|Michael T. Jarvis

Just about every day, some vehicle spills a bizarre substance, radioactive object or wayward animal onto a Southern California freeway. So what are the strangest objects that radio and TV traffic reporters have warned listeners to avoid?

"A jackknifed big rig that spilled a load of Porta Potties," laughs Rod Bernsen, a helicopter traffic reporter with Fox 11's "Good Day L.A." "We've had armored trucks overturn with money blowing, and people picking it up."

"Every kind of seafood spill possible," says radio traffic reporter Jim Thornton."It's always fodder for puns." Some of Thornton's favorite one-liners? When a truckload of squid tipped over, he told listeners, "Don't calamari, call a tow truck." Ouch! Or when Universal Studios airlifted a dinosaur in for an attraction and caused spectator slowing: "Be careful, folks, we don't want any Tyrannosaurus wrecks."

Veteran traffic reporter Judy Abel lists glue spills, frozen-food pileups and blue boxes she jokingly described as "Smurf coffins" (which turned out to be whirlpools). Her greatest pun hits include informing listeners "100 soles were lost" when a shoe delivery truck tripped.

Don Bastida of AirWatch America's traffic bureau recalls a kangaroo near the Grapevine on Interstate 5 and the time the California Highway Patrol reported the contents of an overturned truck in the Cajon Pass as "44,000 pounds of swinging pork carcasses." "Since that time, I have always paid special attention to reports of 'debris' in the road," he notes.

Of the approximately 85,000 traffic reports that KFI and KOST reporter Mark Denis has delivered, only one beats a buffalo on the Ortega Highway and an ostrich loose near Disneyland as the strangest: capsized submarine batteries. "I still have no idea what they're for," he admits.

A truckload of dumped fish left the biggest stink for CHP media information officer Sgt. Rhett Price. "By the time we got out there, it was fish and CHPs," he says, suggesting that the California Highway Patrol has cruised the borscht belt.

"If it's been manufactured, it's been dropped on the freeway," says Margie Tiritilli, a spokeswoman for Caltrans, whose workers occasionally find firearms and human arms roadside. A batch of dye once fell off a truck and splashed a freeway orange. "It wasn't us," declares Tiritilli, noting that orange is Caltrans' standard color.

Thornton the punster remembers plenty of paint spills. "I usually ask the listeners, 'Is that a paint spill on the freeway, or a pigment of your imagination?' "

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