MIAMI — A reporter and anchor who has been with Warren Buffett’s BH Media-owned ABC affiliate serving Miami-Dade, Monroe and Broward Counties since 1989 was found dead Monday morning (6/3).
He was 56.
On Wednesday afternoon, the station, WPLG-10, revealed that Todd Tongen had taken his own life.
Concerns about Tongen emerged when his wife, who was in Italy with their eldest son and unable to reach him, asked a friend to check on him.
Police were called. He was found unresponsive.
Tongen had been a beloved figure at WPLG since December 1989, known for his “indelible charm and wit.”
He had started his career in 1983, as a radio host at Full Service KMRS-AM 1230 in Morris, Minn.
Tongen then worked at an Adult Contemporary station in Grand Junction, Colo., before being handed a job as a movie host and weatherman on KJCT-TV in the city. The station is currently owned by Gray Television.
From 1986 until moving to Miami, he was a feature reporter and weatherman for KARK-TV in Little Rock.
At WPLG, Tongan was most recently a weekend morning anchor opposite Neki Mohan.
But, as WPLG put it, “arguably his most memorable moments involved the many celebrities who were guests in his 1967 Checker taxi cab,” for the 10 Taxi segments that would mirror popular efforts by James Corden and Jerry Seinfeld, among others.
Among the famous names to ride in the cab’s backseat were comedians Dana Carvey and Joan Rivers, and actors David Cassidy, Vin Diesel, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Eva Mendez.
Tongen leaves behind two sons, Tyler and Ryker, and his wife Karen.
Upon learning of the cause of Tongen’s death, an outpouring of grief from the local journalism community came from all corners of South Florida.
“We are shocked and saddened by the death of Todd Tongen, but we are choosing to remember how he lived,” said WPLG President/CEO Bert Medina. “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.”
And, as hard as it is, WPLG reporters will provide details of how Tongen died to viewers.
“We will report on this painful subject of suicide and mental health and perhaps we can help one person out there who is struggling,” Medina said. “We miss Todd terribly. Our staff is suffering, but I commend them for how they’ve handled this situation with grace, strength and professionalism.”
Senior Political Reporter Michael Putney, who was hired the same year as Todd, was tasked with sharing the news with viewers.
On Wednesday, Mohan made her first public comments.
“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.”
According to WPLG, Tongen’s brother believes Todd was fearful that he had Lewy Body Dementia, which led to their mother’s August 2017 death.
“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,” said Dr. Scott Tongen.
There is an ear and help available with just a phone call.
If you find yourself in need, please call the Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.
Your life does matter. Rest In Peace, Todd.