Bridge tender arrested in death of 79-year-old bicyclist who fell to her death

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A bridge tender was arrested Thursday in the death of a 79-year-old woman who fell from a West Palm Beach drawbridge Feb. 6 after it opened up while she was walking her bike across it.

Artissua Lafay Paulk, 43, of Greenacres, was charged with manslaughter by culpable negligence, according to a news release from the West Palm Beach Police.

The victim, Carol Wright, was walking her bike across the bridge connecting West Palm Beach to the Town of Palm Beach when it opened. She grabbed a railing and held on as long as she could, then fell 60 feet to the pavement.

Bridge tenders are required to make an established set of visual inspections before opening the bridge.

The bridge tender claimed to have checked for pedestrians before raising the span, according to a report by the Florida Department of Transportation obtained by WPTV-Ch. 5.

“I walked out on [the] balcony to see [the] roadway for people walking. I went back in [to] turn my lights to red. I then walked back out on [the] balcony to see that all cars had stopped, and no one was on [the] bridge,” the bridge tender said, according to the news station.

She waited for a man who was running across the bridge to get to safety before lowering the gates, she said.

Lance Ivey, attorney for the family of Carol Wright, said the arrest called into question the bridge tender’s statements that she carefully checked for pedestrians before raising the bridge.

“Neither my clients nor myself took a position as to whether an arrest should or should not be made,” he said Thursday in an interview with the Sun Sentinel. “But the fact that an arrest was made today seems to cast doubt on the veracity of the bridge tender’s post-incident statement that she did everything by the book.”

West Palm Beach Police, with the assistance of the U.S. Marshals Service, took Paulk into custody. She was taken to the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office Main Detention Center.

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