Saturday, August 23, 2008

Cam to Retire

Everyone's favorite O.P.P. spokesman Cam Woolley is set to retire, but don't despair, he will resurface on City-TV. Check it out:
He's everyone's favourite cop – the barrel-chested boy in blue with the booming voice and the big mouth. He's the ubiquitous mop-top preacher who keeps one hand on the Highway Traffic Act while he sermonizes about bad drivers.
He blasts his message over the radio and on TV with tall tales of demon speeders, traffic pileups and motorists who commit all sorts of road safety sins – like giving birth on the highway, tossing a salad while shifting gears or driving like a bat out of hell to get butter tarts before the local bakery runs out.
Cam Woolley, 51, is the Ontario Provincial Police sergeant who's tough on road crime, but too jolly to seem like he really means it. He's been blurring the line between officer and celebrity for the better part of three decades.
But on Sept. 1, he's retiring.
"It's been a pleasure," he said. "I don't think I've worked much in the past 30 years. To me it's been more than a job. It's been a calling."
But leaving the OPP doesn't mean stepping out of the spotlight.
Just a day after he hangs up his trooper hat, turns in his cuffs and surrenders his gun, Woolley will become the traffic and safety specialist for CP24. He'll broadcast live on the road from a new black-and-white Woolley-mobile, painted to mimic a police vehicle.
"I'm hoping to carry on the mission in a different way."
He'll be encouraged to speak his mind, he said, a trait that occasionally troubled the OPP and which led to a public clash with Commissioner Julian Fantino two winters ago.
His outspokenness includes highway horror tales that sometimes verge on the unbelievable:
A 7-year-old driving a big rig.
A tractor-trailer driver stirring dinner in a slow cooker perched on the passenger's seat.
A car that was totalled when it smashed full speed into a couch parked on Highway 400.
Were the stories all true?
"Only Cam knows," said Fantino with a chuckle, adding there was never any bad blood between the two.
Bill Grodzinski, the chief superintendent of highway safety – he introduces himself to non-police as "Cam Woolley's boss" – believes Woolley's far-fetched tales are legit.
"You see a lot of strange things in policing," Grodzinski said.
"What he's gotten in trouble for is for giving out statistics (on the spot) ... when he didn't have a computer in front of him."
Woolley began his career long before computers became an integral part of police work, but traffic has always been a key part of his job.
"I still remember her light-blue Camaro and blonde hair and the terrified look on her face," he said of his first OPP case back on Sept. 25, 1978.
He and another officer were called to an accident where a pretty, young woman, who hadn't been belted in, hit the back of a slow-moving truck. Her head went through the windshield.
While his partner called for an ambulance, Woolley comforted the woman. To this day he doesn't know whether she lived or died, but the scene remains etched in his mind.
Fascinated by traffic, he became a technical collision investigator and truck inspector. He earned a reputation for solving fatal hit and runs and became passionate about reducing preventable deaths and injuries.
Apart from a brief involvement with other issues – he successfully lobbied for better police handguns in the 1990s and went undercover as a loudmouth drunk at Ontario Place to catch people smuggling booze into the park – he's stuck to traffic. That included going public with what he believed were design flaws in Highway 407, prompting the province to delay the toll route's opening by six months.
An Upper Canada College graduate who dropped out of York University to join the OPP, he has done most of his work in the public eye. That includes a 20-year-old side business supplying vehicles to movie and TV sets. His fleet has included military tanks, ambulances, New York taxis and school buses.
He recently sold more than half the business to his partner so he could concentrate on his new TV gig, but he still has about 10 exotic vehicles at his four-hectare Tottenham property, halfway between Toronto and Barrie, where he lives with his wife of 24 years, April.
The vehicles include a Range Rover, a 1991 Ferrari Mondial convertible – which he said he never drives over 50 kilometres an hour – a new Chevrolet Avalanche and a Vietnam-era M37 – a four-wheel drive military vehicle equipped with an anti-aircraft gun.
He just sold his Rolls-Royce, Porsche and Mercedes, but expects that void will be filled with "more toys."
He's added to his celebrity by taking bit parts in more than 100 films and TV shows, he said, even playing himself on Degrassi.
But it's his best-known role, as the OPP's face of traffic in the GTA, that won him the most fans.
On one of his last safety blitzes, an area resident hoofed it out of bed when he saw Woolley broadcasting live on TV from a nearby parking lot. The burly cop was chastising traffic violators when 66-year-old Richard Eaton, wearing white knee socks, strode excitedly toward him.
"How you doin' Mr. Woolley?" Eaton asked, a big smile revealing a gold tooth. "Good for you Cam, gettin' all those bad drivers off the road. I see you on TV all the time."
Woolley, never without a line, winked at a gaggle of OPP officers before responding: "I watch you too. We can see through the TV."
Eaton grabbed the big cop's hand and wouldn't let go, so Woolley pulled him to the trunk of his squad car and slapped into his palm a 5x7-inch glossy headshot of himself in OPP uniform.
Woolley then whipped out a black felt marker and signed it. "This happens all the time," Woolley said. "People stop me in gas stations, on the side of the road, wanting my autograph." "He'll be missed," Fantino said. "But the one who'll miss him most is the media. He's always good for a quote."
At his penultimate "blitz," the kind of no-holds-barred-traffic-safety-free-for-all that Woolley has organized for years on the Friday before summer long weekends, the sergeant was holding court in a Whitby parking lot.
A cellphone at one ear, a wire wrapped behind the other and a microphone in his other hand, Woolley threw a smile at the CityTV cameraman. He winked at one from Global and told a 680 News reporter on the line – in his deepest radio voice – that "it's going to be a busy weekend."
Changing his spiel slightly to fit the tone of each media outlet, he wove together safety facts – 80 fewer people have been killed on the road this year so far to date – with anecdotes, like the couch smashing, salad tossing and babies born on highway shoulders.
After he finished his on-air bits, he swore that all his stories are true.
"They're too crazy. I couldn't make this stuff up."

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