It seemed like a tragic accident. While 79-year-old Carol Wright was crossing a bridge in West Palm Beach, the drawbridge began to rise. Wright tried to cling to the bridge, but she couldn’t hold on and fell to death.
Now, new details reveal that the tragic accident could have been prevented, and the person in charge of managing the drawbridge may pay the consequences. Bridgetender, Artissua Lafay Paulk is being criminally charged in the death of Carol Wright.
What Happened on the Bridge?
Artissua Lafay Paulk is a bridgetender in charge of the Royal Park Bridge in West Palm Beach. A bridgetender is responsible for confirming that a bridge is clear of vehicles and people before it rises.
But on February 6, 2022, Paulk began to raise the bridge while Carol Wright was in the middle of crossing it.
Wright was walking her bicycle across the bridge. She legally and lawfully entered the bridge and was about roughly ten feet past the barrier arms when it started to rise. A bystander tried to help Wright. She clung to the side of the bridge, but ultimately, Wright fell and died on the scene.
The role of a bridgetender is to ensure such a tragedy doesn’t occur. Their roles require them to follow specific safety protocols. According to West Palm Beach police spokesman Mike Jachle, bridgetenders are responsible for “lowering of the gates for the vehicles, lowering of the gates for the pedestrians, and making several visual confirmations that there is nobody at either of the spans or past those gates.”
Paulk told police she followed safety procedures. A Florida Department of Transportation report said Paulk claimed she walked out on the balcony multiple times before and after turning on the red lights and lowering the gate to stop traffic and making two announcements on loudspeakers.
Attorney Lance Ivey, who represents Wright’s family, says this account is a lie, and now, evidence that shows Paulk did not follow safety protocols has led to her arrest.
Why Is Paulk Being Charged with Manslaughter?
Paulk has been charged with manslaughter by culpable negligence.
Investigators allege that Paulk did not follow safety protocols and lied about it.
After obtaining a search warrant, investigators uncovered texts between Paulk and her supervisor that were deleted. The text messages show that Paulk lied to investigators.
3:20 p.m. from supervisor to Paulk: “When they talk to you make [expletive] sure you tell them you walked outside on balcony 3 diff times to make sure no one was past gates n delete this msg after one time to make sure card [sic] stop 2nd time after gates lowered and 3rd time before you raised spans ok now delete this I know ur upset but u gotta tell them step by step how u do opening”
3:20 p.m. Paulk to supervisor: “I did”
3:59 p.m. from supervisor to Paulk: “You have to write out step by step what you did ok up till time you were told someone fell”
Police also uncovered another text in which Paulk told a friend, “I’m here with the police I killed a lady on the bridge.”
Paulk, who was staffed by a private state contractor, is now facing criminal charges.
What Are the Potential Consequences?
Manslaughter is a criminal charge that is a step-below a murder charge. In a murder charge, there is intent to kill another person. In a manslaughter charge, there is no premeditation to kill another person. It is defined under Florida Statute 782.07.
In manslaughter cases, the defendant did one or more of the following.
- Intentionally completed an act that led to the death of another person.
- Persuaded or encouraged another person to complete an act that led to that person’s death.
- Was culpably negligent which led to the death of another person.
In this case, the state says Paulk was culpably negligent. She did not intend to kill Wright, but her actions led to Wright’s death.
Paulk faces serious charges.
In Florida, the charge of manslaughter by culpable negligence is a second-degree felony that can result in 15 years in prison, 15 years of probation, and up to a $10,000 fine.
Paulk may also face civil charges as the case could qualify as a wrongful death case if Wright’s family wants to pursue civil charges.
Facing Criminal Charges Is Serious
Any time someone faces criminal charges, it is a serious situation. If you or someone close to you is facing criminal charges, make sure they have legal representation they can trust.
Find an attorney who can fight to ensure that you get the most fair and just outcome possible. If you need a criminal defense attorney, talk to TJ Grimaldi today. Request your consultation or call 813-226-1023 today.