West Palm Beach bridge tender arrested

West Palm Beach Police report that the bridge tender who was operating a drawbridge a 79-year-old woman fell from in February has been arrested and charged with manslaughter by culpable negligence.\

Officials took Artissau Paulk into custody Thursday afternoon. The Greenacres woman is now at the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office Main Detention Center.

Paulk appeared in court for the first time Friday, where she was given a $20,000 bond. She is not allowed to have any contact with witnesses or the family of Carol Wright.

Documents stated that Paulk worked for Florida Drawbridge, Incorporated for more than one year and had been assigned to the Royal Park Bridge for two months before February 6.

The court documents show that Paulk lied during her statement to police and texted about the lies with what appears to be her supervisor before deleting the messages.

Mugshot of Artissua Lafaye Paulk
Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office

Artissua Lafaye Paulk

According to the court documents, Paulk said she checked the area at least three times before raising the bridge that a woman fell to her death from. She also said that she had raised the bridge five times throughout the day.

Surveillance video showed that the bridge was raised six times, meaning two of the times were not logged.

The video showed that the only time during Paulk’s shift that someone went out on the balcony was at 8:08 a.m., 8:59 a.m., and 9:03 a.m. The door to the balcony doesn’t open at any other point during the shift.

A search warrant for Paulk’s phone also showed that after the incident, Paulk was texting with the person who was named as the supervisor in the incident report. The text messages, which were all deleted, are as follow:

3:20 p.m. from supervisor: “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 (sic) ok now delete this I know ur upset but u gotta tell them step by step how u do opening”

3:21 p.m. to supervisor: “I did”

3:59 p.m. from supervisor: “You have to write out step by step what you did ok up till time you were told someone fell”

There is also a text message to another person at 3:44 p.m. that says,” I’m here with the police I killed a lady on the bridge.”

Paulk’s actions showed “reckless disregard of human life and the safety of a person, specifically Carol Wright, who was exposed to its dangerous effects which resulted in Carol Wright’s death,” court documents stated. Paulk “consciously followed a course of conduct that she must have known or should reasonably should have known was likely to cause death or great bodily injury.”

Wright’s autopsy revealed her death was caused by blunt force trauma to the head and torso. The death was ruled accidental.

Drawbridge incident timeline

The following timeline is from court documents.

12:49 p.m. – Wright enters the frame of video walking her bike.

1 p.m. – All traffic stops on the bridge.

1:01 p.m. – The bridge begins to open.

1:04 p.m. – The bridge closesA 911 call is made to West Palm Beach police from a witness.

1:12 p.m. – Rescue crews arrive on scene.

1:20 p.m. – Carol Wright pronounced dead at the scene by rescue crews.

According to the drawbridge incident report, additional times include:

1:55 p.m. – The supervisor arrived.

4:28 p.m. – Detectives took the bridge tender’s statement, asked about the opening procedure and then said she was free to go.

6:25 p.m. – Carol Wright’s body was removed from the pit location of the bridge.

6:30 p.m. – A drug test was done on bridge tender, which came back negative, according to police.

6:45 p.m.- The bridge tender left the bridge house.

Wright’s family attorney reacts to arrest

Lance Ivey said the family of Carol Wright plans to sue Paulk’s employer at a later time, and that the family will work to enact changes to prevent any other drawbridge deaths from happening in Florida ever again.

“(Wright) was living her golden years out in South Florida and it was wrongfully taken from her and she went through a process of death I can’t imagine,” said Ivey. “The several minutes of mental and physical anguish that she had to go through, but the bottom line is that we feel that justice is going to be mainly making change so that this doesn’t happen again.

“Two, there is a loss here and under civil remedies we have other avenues to proceed to try to dignify, you can’t dignify the loss, but you try to dignify the loss in a civil manner as best as you can.”