For CHiPs' Estrada, Life Imitates Art

Actor Erik Estrada played the role of Officer Francis "Ponch" Poncherello on the infamous 1977-1983 hit TV show "CHiPS." He also went onto become a popular telenovela star. CBS/ Dennis R. Greene

Former "CHiPs" heartthrob, telenovela actor, "Armed & Famous" and "The Surreal Life" reality TV star Erik Estrada is no stranger to law enforcement.

And at almost 60 years old, he is still patrolling the highways.

Although it's hard to forget the image of Estrada on the small screen in his tight polyester police uniform and aviator sunglasses riding a motorcycle as California Highway Patrol Officer Frank "Ponch" Poncherello, he now takes the law into his own hands - and it's no act.

Estrada is a deputy sheriff in Virginia and a reserve police officer in Indiana. He also publicly supported California's newly implemented law that prohibits all drivers from using handheld cell phones while driving.

The just-passed law also states that motorists 18 and over may use a "hands-free device," but drivers under the age of 18 may not use a cell phone or hands-free device while driving.

Photos: "Armed And Famous"
"I think it's very, extremely important because you can't give your driving total, 100 percent concentration. … You need to be totally aware of what you are doing when you are driving, and when you are driving - you should be driving," he told KGMB9 News.

Estrada isn't only enforcing the law of the land, he is also enforcing the law in cyberspace by lobbying for increased funding for Internet safety education.

Estrada was shocked to see the prevalence of child pornography and wanted to take a stand against it, so he teamed up with ICAT (Internet Crimes Against Children).

"It's a foundation that was actually formed to increase Internet safety education and to lobby for mandatory Internet safety education in all schools nationwide," Estrada told CBSNews.com. "It's a 501-3 corporation, a non-profit. I actually became a deputy sheriff in Virginia and I am an investigator with ICAT (Internet Crimes Against Children) because I saw child porn and I went out of my mind and I said that something has to be done."

Although he still has those Poncherello good looks and full head of hair, Estrada will be turning 60 in March and realizes he won't be able to be on the job forever. Therefore, ICAT will be a way for him to continue his work.

Estrada, who is also a reserve police officer in Indiana, has to work 96 hours a year on the street to keep his reserve status, he explained.

Photos: Celebrity Circuit
Art and life collided when Estrada starred in the short-lived CBS reality show called "Armed & Famous" in 2007 when he, La Toya Jackson, Jack Osbourne, Jason Acuna and Trish Stratus became armed reserve officers on the Muncie (Ind.) Police Department.

Estrada also co-starred in the second season of "The Surreal Life" (2004) with past-their-prime Hollywood stars Traci Bingham, Trishelle Cannatella, Tammy Faye Messner, Ron Jeremy and Vanilla Ice.

(Warner Home Video)
CHiPs, meanwhile, known for its machismo in the late '70s and for shining a positive light on Hispanic-Americans, has acquired a comical cult-like following today.

Estrada has fond memories of playing "Ponch" alongside Jon Baker (played by Larry Wilcox) and memorable guest stars such as the late Evel Knievel, who performed his incredible motorcycle stunts.

"We had stunt people, but we did our own driving, pulling up and out and some of the chases. We chased behind a camera truck," Estrada said.

Fans of the popular late '70s sitcom can catch "Ponch" in action in "CHiPs: The Complete Second Season," which was released by Warner Home Video on June 3.

CHiPS will also be brought to the big screen with a film adaptation that is slated to be released in early 2009. "That '70s Show" actor Wilmer Valderrama will play "Ponch."

By Melissa Castellanos
  • CBSNews

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