Florida drawbridge operator, 43, won’t be jailed despite being convicted of manslaughter

Florida drawbridge operator, 43, won’t be jailed despite being convicted of manslaughter for killing grandma, 79, by raising bridge while victim was trying to cycle across

  • Drawbridge employee Artissua Lafay Paulk 43, will avoid jail in plea deal
  • Paulk raised the bridge before checking for pedestrians in fatal incident last year
  • Grandma Carol Wright, 79,  plunged 60 feet to her death on February 6, 2022
  • Operator faces eight years of probation and 200 hours community service
  • But probation could be cut to five years if she completes all conditions imposed
  • She has also been ordered to write a letter of apology to victim’s family
  • Florida Drawbridges paid Wright’s family $8 million to settle a lawsuit

A Florida drawbridge operator who killed a grandmother last year when she raised the spans before making sure they were clear will avoid jail after pleading guilty to manslaughter.

Artissua Lafay Paulk, 43, opened the Royal Park Bridge over the Intracoastal Waterway on February 6 as 79-year-old victim Carol Wright was still walking across with her bicycle.

It caused Wright, a retired newspaper editor who was riding back from a bookstore, to plunge 50 feet to her death landing on a concrete slab.

Paulk reportedly texted her friend immediately afterwards: ‘I’m here with the police, I killed a lady on the bridge.’ 

Artissua Lafay Paulk 43, a drawbridge employee, pleaded guilty to manslaughter after killing a 79-year-old bicyclist last year when she raised the spans before making sure they were clear. She will avoid prison time

Artissua Lafay Paulk 43, a drawbridge employee, pleaded guilty to manslaughter after killing a 79-year-old bicyclist last year when she raised the spans before making sure they were clear. She will avoid prison time

Paulk allegedly texted her supervisor - who is also her mother-in-law - that she lied to police before deleting the messages

Paulk allegedly texted her supervisor – who is also her mother-in-law – that she lied to police before deleting the messages  

At a hearing last Tuesday, the operator was sentenced to eight years of probation and 200 hours of community service.

But her probation could be cut to five years if she completes all conditions imposed.

Palm Beach County Circuit Court Judge Scott Suskauer also ordered she write an apology letter to Wright’s sisters and that she must not work any job that involves operating heavy machinery or equipment.

Florida Drawbridges, the private contractor that operates the government-owned span, paid Wright’s family $8 million to settle a lawsuit.

Paulk was operating a bridge that connects West Palm Beach and Palm Beach when she opened the bridge to let a boat pass.

After lowering its entrance barriers, she was supposed to go outside the bridge tender’s station and make sure no cars, pedestrians or bicyclists were on it.

The operator originally told police she had checked the bridge, but surveillance video and text messages she sent to her boss immediately after Wright’s fall show she had not.

As well as texting her friend, she also reportedly spoke to her supervisor Kathie Harper who happens to be her mother-in-law.

Harper instructed Paulk to tell officers she checked the bridge three times before lifting it which bridge tenders are required to do, the affidavit said.

She then asked Paulk to delete the messages which she did. Both were fired.

Paulk had worked for the company for around a year at the time of the incident. 

Wright (left), a retired newspaper editor, was walking her bike home from a bookstore when the bridge started to go up. She plunged 50 feet to her death.

Wright (left), a retired newspaper editor, was walking her bike home from a bookstore when the bridge started to go up. She plunged 50 feet to her death. 

The victim was within 10 feet of reaching safety when the drawbridge started to go up at around 1pm. 

A Good Samaritan, who witnessed the incident, raced to Wright’s aid and tried to pull her to safety but lost his grip. 

She slipped through the gap formed by the rising bridge and the main roadway and desperately tried to cling on, before falling more than five stories to the concrete base of the 1,238-foot span over the Intercoastal Waterway.

At the time West Palm Beach Police Spokesperson Mike Jachles said: ‘The woman tried to hang on. There was a bystander nearby who tried to help her, but tragically she fell five or six stories below where she died landing on concrete.’

A Good Samaritan raced to Wright's aid and tried to pull her to safety but lost his grip

A Good Samaritan raced to Wright’s aid and tried to pull her to safety but lost his grip

Palm Beach County Circuit Court Judge Scott Suskauer ordered Paulk, pictured, to write an apology letter to Wright's sisters

 Palm Beach County Circuit Court Judge Scott Suskauer ordered Paulk, pictured, to write an apology letter to Wright’s sisters

Paulkwas interviewed by detectives again after being brought to police headquarters. 

She was then taken to jail, where she was booked on one count of manslaughter by culpable negligence.

The bridge is equipped with bells and whistles to alert drivers and pedestrians that the drawbridge is going up. 

Source

Related posts