Authorities have arrested a bridge tender in West Palm Beach, Florida, claiming her negligence resulted in the tragic death of an elderly cyclist who fell more than 50 feet onto concrete while trying to cross the bridge last month.
What are the details?
Artissua Lafaye Paulk, 43, of Greenacres, was arrested at her Palm Beach home on Thursday and charged with manslaughter by culpable negligence, the West Palm Beach Police Department announced in a news release. The crime carries a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison
Paulk was operating the Royal Park Bridge — which connects Palm Beach to the Florida mainland — on February 6 when the 79-year-old victim fell to her death. According to witnesses and investigators, the woman was walking her bike across the drawbridge and had almost reached the other side when the drawbridge suddenly started to rise, sending her careening through a chasm.
"She was walking her bike from east to west and had almost reached the furthest point of the moveable span when it went up," West Palm Beach police spokesman Mike Jachles said at the time, adding that a bystander "tried to help her but he wasn’t able to hold onto her and she fell about five to six stories below."
Despite being reported by multiple local news outlets, police said the victim's identity is being protected under Marsy's Law.
Immediately following the tragedy, authorities noted that the bridge tender's actions would be a centerpiece of the investigation. Since then, dramatic details have emerged about the tender's actions and a bystander's failed rescue attempt.
Bridge tender arrested after 79-year-old woman dies in fall from Royal Park Bridge www.youtube.com
What actually happened?
According to an arrest affidavit obtained by WPTV-TV, the bystander, Diego Us Pu, was riding his skateboard near the bridge when he heard an elderly woman screaming for help and hanging on to the railing as the span opened.
He proceeded to grab Wright's arm in an attempt to save her from falling, but later told investigators that he had no way to brace himself and wasn't able to maintain a grip. He had to watch as the woman fell more than five stories to her death.
The affidavit also stated that Paulk lied to investigators when they arrived on the scene to interview her and other witnesses. She told them she went out on the bridge house balcony three times to check for any pedestrians or motorists.
But an alleged text exchange between Paulk and her supervisor, Kathie Harper, seen by investigators, shows the two conspired to cover up her responsibility after the incident.
After Paulk notified her supervisor about what happened, the supervisor responded, saying, "When they talk to you make [expletive] sure you tell them you walked outside on balcony 3 diff[erent] times to make sure no one was past gates [and] delete this msg [sic] after."
In another text message sent to a friend, Paulk said, "I'm here with the police I killed a lady on the bridge."
Investigators said video evidence contradicted Paulk's claim that she checked the bridge three times.
They added that Paulk's actions showed "reckless disregard of human life and safety of a person."
In a statement, the attorney representing the victim's family, said, "She earned the right to live out her golden years in South Florida with her loving family in a manner that she chose to do. That was wrongfully taken from her."
Bridge tender lied to investigators, affidavit says www.youtube.com