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Grand marshal is enjoying events, people in Winchester

By Alex Bridges -- abridges@nvdaily.com

WINCHESTER -- Erik Estrada played a motorcycle policeman on TV's "CHiPs."

Now he can help enforce the law in real life.

Estrada, 60, born Henry Enrique Estrada in New York City, is well known for starring as Officer Frank "Ponch" Poncherello on "CHiPs," which ran on NBC from 1977 to 1983.

The grand marshal of the Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival stopped by several events Thursday and Friday, including the Bloomers Luncheon, which he said he enjoyed.

"I loved it when the young ladies in their 50s and 60s jumped me," Estrada said, laughing. "When they come up to me to say, 'I love you. I want your autograph' and we share a hug, and squeeze, and take a picture."

"Back in the '70s, to promote ["CHiPs"], I'd go around the country and I'd do these large convention centers, automobile shows, and they'd bring a celebrity in and it had the same feel, same energy, and it felt really terrific."

Estrada said he has a lot in common with the women at the Ladies' Horticultural Luncheon because he "likes to get down and dirty" in the sense of working with plants and landscaping, which he does at his California home regularly.

The actor continues to star on television, sometimes as his "CHiPs" character or even himself. Appearances have ranged from roles on Latin-American TV soap operas, to providing the voice for a character on the cartoon "Sealab 2021" to playing himself on the reality show "The Surreal Life."

"Well, once in a while I gotta go get the rent," Estrada said.

Estrada said he enjoyed playing himself earlier this year in a two-part episode of NBC's "My Name Is Earl," during which he hosts a reality show called "Estrada or Nada?"

"You don't want to look too much like a clown but you want to have fun and you want to be able to laugh at yourself because you live longer, they say," he said. "It was fun. It was received well."

His desire for police work landed him on the reality show "Armed & Famous," during which he became a reserve police officer for Muncie, Ind.

"If I could stay 24-7 in law enforcement, I would, but I have to get the rent because I still support my mom and I've got her living very well," Estrada said.

The actor teamed up with Safe Surfin' Foundation & Internet Crimes Against Children Task Forces, which he helped start in Bedford County. The initiative aims to protect children from sexual predators on the Internet, according to Estrada' official Web site. Estrada takes a hard-line approach to sexual predators, but also indicated he would like to play one on television sometime to bring more attention to the problem. His goal, he said, is to bring Internet safety to school systems across the country.

Estrada lives in Hollywood with his wife Nanette Mirkovich, who is Croatian, and their daughter, Francesca. He has two sons from a previous marriage.

Reflecting on Winchester, Estrada said, "I think it's a lovely place."

"I like that there's tradition here, and there's a lot of culture, lot of history, and the people are really good, God-loving people," he said.

Estrada will appear in the Grand Feature Parade today -- but won't be riding on a motorcycle.


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