PEMBROKE PARK, Fla. - It is with a heavy heart that Local 10 News must provide an update on the death of a longtime friend and colleague.
Local 10 News has learned that the death of Todd Tongen was a suicide.
"We are shocked and saddened by the death of Todd Tongen, but we are choosing to remember how he lived," WPLG President and CEO Bert Medina said. "Todd was an incredibly talented journalist. He spent 30 years at WPLG telling the stories of the people in our community and giving so much of himself to this community. He was an incredible person. He lit up the room with his warm personality.
"As hard as it is, our news team is reporting on the circumstance of Todd's death," Medina continued. "We will report on this painful subject of suicide and mental health and perhaps we can help one person out there who is struggling. We miss Todd terribly. Our staff is suffering, but I commend them for how they've handled this situation with grace, strength and professionalism."
It has never been more apparent than in the days since Todd's death just how much of an impact he made throughout South Florida. The many messages of condolences, near and far, reinforce the relationship Todd shared with his community.
Todd's infectious fervor for life and endearing personality made him a household favorite for more than three decades, from Palm Beach County to the Florida Keys.
Todd had been a part of the WPLG family since December 1989. He was beloved by his co-workers, loyal Local 10 viewers who got to know him through the years and even complete strangers.
As Local 10 News senior political reporter Michael Putney, who was hired the same year as Todd, so eloquently shared with viewers after learning of Todd's death, Todd continuously reinvented himself, wearing a variety of hats at the station.
When he arrived at the station, at the urging of legendary anchor Ann Bishop, and was first introduced to South Florida, Todd made an early impression that resonated with viewers.
Todd wasn't your average weatherman. He once donned Superman's cape and dressed as Elvis Presley on live television, blending the forecast with fun.
Yet Todd always managed to find the appropriate balance between fun and forthright in his reporting. Hurricane Andrew was one such example.
Todd's coverage of the devastating storm caught the attention of ABC News and, consequently, America. He was the calm after the storm and just what South Florida needed at that time.
Viewers spent years riding along with Todd in his "10 Taxi," a 1967 Checker cab that served as an intimate glimpse into the lives of celebrities like David Cassidy, Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, Eva Mendez, Sofia Vergara and Vanna White.
Todd once took the taxi on a spin around the Homestead-Miami Speedway.
When ABC News anchor Peter Jennings paid a visit to WPLG in 2002, Todd took the venerable news personality on a tour of Miami in the backseat of his familiar ride.
On another occasion, Todd drove the taxi to take tabloid talk show host Jerry Springer to Joe's Stone Crab, where they dined on Florida's finest crustaceans and schmoozed with Miami-Dade County State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle.
With Todd in the driver's seat, the 10 Taxi became a must-do during every celebrity's visit to South Florida. The 10 Taxi was so popular that Wyclef Jean even tried to buy it from him.
Since retiring the taxi, Todd continued to entertain viewers, refereeing an arm-wrestling match between former Miami Dolphins defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh and billionaire Warren Buffet, who acquired WPLG in 2014. He also showed off the treadmill desk when it came time to shed a few pounds.
They were just some of the many reports that were unmistakably Todd.
In recent years, Todd spent his weekend mornings sharing the anchor desk with Neki Mohan.
"We are all hurting at the loss of our very unique and treasured friend," she said. "Todd was the foundation of this newsroom. He will never be replaced. I choose not to focus on how he died, but how he lived. My memories of our 10 years together will forever light up my life. I want to support his family in this awful time. He loved them so much. Rest in peace, my friend."
Todd's brother, Dr. Scott Tongen, spoke to Local 10 News about why he believes Todd took his life.
"I don't really think he was thinking about ending his life, as far as I know," he told Putney.
Tongen said Todd and his brothers were planning a trip to Las Vegas and that Todd had purchased tickets to go to a cabin in Canada.
"But there was clearly something that was bothering him," Tongen said.
His brother believes Todd was tormented by the fear that he had lewy body dementia, the same affliction that claimed the life of their mother in August 2017.
"I'm convinced that he thought he had it," Tongen said. "Whether there was conclusive evidence or not, I think he thought he had it, and that may have been enough."
Todd was home alone at the time. His older son was at Florida State University and his wife and younger son were in Italy on vacation.
"He left some garbled messages that we haven't seen yet, but there was a simple note that said he was lost and to forgive him," Tongen revealed.
It's impossible to mention Todd without mentioning the compassion and congeniality that he displayed each and every day. He was a father to his two sons, Tyler and Ryker, a husband to Karen, a mentor to many and a shoulder on which to cry. When South Florida hurt, Todd was hurting too. When South Florida was celebrating, Todd was leading the celebration.
Todd was there with you through the good times and the bad, and although South Florida's collective hearts are broken, they'll never stop beating for him.
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