Report: New I-405 toll lanes did not prevent a suicide as WSDOT head claimed

SEATTLE -- The head of the Washington State Department of Transportation has apologized for mischaracterizing an email sent to the agency – purportedly from a driver happy with the new I-405 express toll lanes.

In a radio interview on KTTH last week, Secretary of Transportation Lynn Peterson said her agency has received praise from commuters who are saving time in traffic thanks to the new toll lanes between Bothell and Bellevue.

To illustrate her point, Peterson referenced an email she received from a driver.

“I am also getting stories about people who — literally one person was ready to commit suicide because of their life and how it was being impacted by I-405, and literally wrote us and said, 'you saved my life,'" Peterson told KTTH.

A tragic story – but not true, according to KIRO Radio.

After a public disclosure request was filed to get a copy of the email, Peterson asked if she could clarify her remarks, KIRO Radio reported.

It turned out that the email in question made no reference to suicide.

The email read, in part:

“The stress and anxiety I’ve endured over the years can’t even be measured. I remember times of leaving work 2 hours before having to pick up my son from childcare, only to have my commute take 2 ½ hours that day. I’ve missed countless meetings, appointments and spent so many days feeling helpless – the grind of it all day after day has resulted in years of depression, anger … you name it. I've even considered crazy things, like walking away from my mortgage, or quitting my job and just letting the bank take everything. The mind comes up with wild ideas and options when you feel helpless.”

While the email painted a grim picture of the driver’s life before the toll lanes opened, it made no mention of suicide.

In a subsequent interview with KTTH, Peterson apologized for mischaracterizing the email.

“I remembered this person who seemed like they were at the end of their rope,” she said. “I just wanted to clarify it because it’s a big deal and I didn’t want people to focus on whether or not the person was actually suicidal.”