Ambulance ticketed for running through toll on Tacoma Narrows

Ambulance ticketed for running through toll on Tacoma Narrows »Play Video
QUILCENE, Wash. -- An ambulance rushing a critical patient to the hospital was ticketed for failing to stop at the toll booth on the Tacoma Narrows Bridge.

The ambulance operated by a volunteer crew was rushing a patient fighting for her life to Tacoma General Hospital. With the emergency lights flashing and CPR in progress, the ambulance chose to bypass the toll booth.

"Before we got there, I knew that I was going to go through the 'good to go' lane, because that was the least path of resistance," said Joe Vierra, a volunteer driver for Jefferson County Fire District #2.

Those efforts on Sept. 11 saved the patient's life.

But two weeks later, the fire department received a $52 fine for failing to pay a $4 toll.

"The last thing on our minds is whether or not we have to call another government agency to let them know we went code-red through their toll booth," said fire chief Robert Low.

The department called Washington State Patrol to dispute the fine. Officials there told the crew to contact the Washington State Department of Transportation.

WSDOT spokesman Pete Briglia initially gave KOMO the same response it gave Quilcene: "If an emergency vehicle does not have a tag and toll account, they would have to go to court to have the violation dismissed."

But just minutes later, KOMO News received a second statement from WSDOT Tolls Communications Manager Janet Matkins, which said, "If they (the fire department) had called us right away, we would have been happy to work with them to ensure no fine was issued."

The suggested procedure seems ludicrous to Low.

"How do we know we're supposed to call 'em the next day to let them know something like that? And we're talking about going red-lights and siren because somebody's life is at risk here," he said.

Since disputing the ticket would have cost time and money, the department decided to pay the fine.

But the department says the issue here isn't about money; it's about saving lives. And the fire chief says the next time his crew has to race across the Tacoma Narrows Bridge in an attempt to save someone's life, the ambulance will not stop at the tolls.