The bridgetender controlling a Florida drawbridge when a woman walking across fell to her death was arrested Thursday and charged with one count of manslaughter by culpable negligence, West Palm Beach police said in a release.
Artissua Lafaye Paulk, 43, was on duty February 6 when 79-year-old Carol Wright fell to her death as she was walking her bike across the Royal Park Bridge over the Intercoastal Waterway when it opened.
In Paulk’s statement to police outlined in a probable cause affidavit, she described the measures she took to ensure that no one was on the bridge, including visually checking several times from the balcony, turning the traffic lights red, closing the pedestrian gate, and making announcements that the bridge was going to open.
Paulk said she didn’t see any people or bicycles inside the gates when she checked before opening the bridge.
“Based on the above investigation, video evidence contradicts Artissua Paulk’s statement that she walked out onto the balcony and visually checked the bridge for vehicles or pedestrians prior to opening the bridge,” a police officer says in the affidavit.
“Artissua Paulk’s actions showed reckless disregard of human life and the safety of a person, specifically Carol Wright,” the officer writes.
Paulk was charged with one count of manslaughter by culpable negligence, police said in their release.
CNN has reached out to Paulk’s public defender for comment on the case.
Investigators also found a discrepancy in Paulk’s reporting of how many times the bridge opened that day, the affidavit said. Paulk told police she opened the gate five times, but when investigators reviewed the log, she had only noted four openings.
Surveillance video showed the gate opened six times during her shift, according to the affidavit.
The affidavit notes that when reviewing the surveillance video of the balcony, it does not show anyone coming out on it after 9:03 a.m. that day. “The door does not open and there is no movement on the balcony at any other time during Paulk’s shift on 2/6/22,” it says.
The affidavit states that during a forensic review of Paulk’s phone, officers note that there were several incoming and outgoing messages between 12:52 p.m. (seven minutes before the bridge opening procedure began) and 4:26 p.m. (when she gave her statement to police,) including messages from the bridge supervisor.
According to the affidavit, a message from the supervisor, that police say was deleted from Paulk’s phone, said, “When they talk to you make dam 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 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.”
The court document says that a response to that message of “I did” from Paulk’s phone was also deleted.
Wright family attorney Lance Ivey said in a statement the police investigation confirmed their long-standing position that Wright was lawfully on the bridge. Ivey also said Paulk didn’t make a required announcement over an intercom that the bridge would be raised.
“Carol was there to be seen. The activation to raise the bridge resulted in a several minute mental and physical death sentence for Carol,” he said. “The thorough and intensive investigation conducted by the city of West Palm Beach Police Department gave Carol back her voice (to let truth prevail) that was unimaginably and prematurely taken from her on February 6th,”
Court records show Paulk has bonded out of the Polk County Jail.