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Affidavit: FL drawbridge tender charged with woman's death texted 'I killed a lady on the bridge'

Woman died after bridge opened with her on it
Artissua Lafay Paulk, bridge tender arrested, first court appearance, March 18, 2022
Posted at 2:44 PM, Mar 18, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-18 14:44:48-04

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — A West Palm Beach bridge tender was in court Friday after authorities arrested her in connection with the February death of a 79-year-old West Palm Beach woman who fell from a drawbridge.

Artissua Lafay Paulk, 43, faces a charge of one count of manslaughter by culpable negligence in the death of Carol Wright, who fell from the Royal Park Bridge.

A judge set her bond at $20,000 and issued a no-contact order with witnesses or Wright's family.

Paulk was arrested Thursday after police said their investigation found that video evidence contradicted a statement Paulk made in which she claimed she walked outside to check the bridge for vehicles and pedestrians before opening the bridge.

Wright had ridden her bike to a book shop on Palm Beach on Feb. 6 and was returning home, according to attorney Lance Ivey, who is representing her family.

Attorneys and family members said Wright was pushing her bike along a pedestrian walkway on the bridge when the deck suddenly started to ascend.

The family's position is that the bridge tender was negligent.

"I'm here with police I killed a lady on the bridge," Paulk texted someone on the afternoon of the incident, according to a probable cause affidavit.

The affidavit also shows that Paulk's supervisor — who is also her mother-in-law — told her to tell police that she checked the bridge.

"When they talk to you, make dam sure you tell them you walked outside the balcony 3 diff times to make sure no one was past gates n delete this msg..." Paulk's supervisor texted her on Feb. 6, the date of Wright's death.

Details in the report also said a skateboarder near the bridge tried to save Wright but could not hold on to her hand.

Paulk worked for Florida Drawbridges Inc., which operates the Royal Park Bridge, for about a year and had been assigned to the bridge for two months.

Manslaughter by culpable negligence carries a maximum 15-year prison.

It's unclear if Paulk's supervisor will face charges in the case.

This story was originally published by Scott Sutton on Scripps station WPTV in West Palm Beach, Florida.