WSDOT gives Tacoma Teen second best day of his life

By guest blogger Kelly Stowe

Back in April 2008, WSDOT staff found a friend in Drake Thomas. Drake, who is autistic, was 10 years old, and fascinated by the WSDOT traffic cameras and soothing background music that played during TV Tacoma 12’s “Traffic Watch program.” The program flashed live images of WSDOT traffic cameras focused on I-5, SR 16 and SR 512.

Drake would watch the show daily, memorizing the order in which the camera images were shown. If something was off or a camera image was out, he would ask his parents to call TV Tacoma or WSDOT. He even built his own highway system at home by making traffic cameras with toothpicks, straws, and clay. When WSDOT heard about Drake’s passion for traffic cameras, he was invited to check out the Olympic Region Traffic Management Center in Parkland where he could meet the people who controlled the cameras he watched each morning on Channel 12.

On the day of his visit, Drake got a lesson about all the inter-workings of the TMC by Rich Langlois, Traffic Safety Systems Operator, and was even allowed to operate the cameras where he adjusted the angles and zoomed in and out.  KOMO TV also came along for his visit. (See the KOMO segment of Drake’s visit here.)

Drake was in camera-loving heaven and proclaimed the day, “The most special day of my life.”

So almost five years later when WSDOT staff asked if Drake was interested in a return visit, he jumped at the chance. It was almost as time had stood still when Drake entered the TMC, except of course the seemingly 10 feet the now 15-year-old had grown.

Drake walked in and his old friend, Rich Langlois, was right there waiting to put him to work. Drake sat down at a computer that is used to move the cameras – and that’s when a call came in over the Washington State Patrol scanner which is monitored by TMC staff, that there was a disabled car blocking a lane on eastbound SR 512 at I-5. Rich said to Drake, “Well, you better find it.”

As if he had been working at the TMC for the past five years, Drake expertly found the right camera and moved it around until the disabled vehicle was in sight.

Drake spent the next two hours moving the cameras and talking to Rich about how he likes high school, enjoys being a part of the NAVY ROTC, and what he needs to do so he can work at the TMC when he graduates.

Rich’s explanation on what Drake needed to one day become a TMC employee was pretty cut and dry, “Stay in school and don’t do drugs.”

Drake’s mom, Janice, and dad, Bob, both accompanied him on his visit. His mom explained that when Drake arrived that day at the TMC he announced, “Today is the second best day of my life!”