After Woman's Death, Bridge Operator Is Charged

Pedestrian was killed when Florida span was raised
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Feb 7, 2022 9:50 AM CST
Updated Mar 18, 2022 9:40 AM CDT
Bicyclist Dies After Drawbridge Rises as She Crossed
One of the drawbridges in West Palm Beach, Fla.   (Getty Images/jodtalingchan)

Update: A Florida bridgetender who raised a drawbridge before a 79-year-old woman walking her bicycle reached the other side has been has charged with manslaughter in her death, police said. West Palm Beach police arrested Artissua Lafay Paulk, 43, at her home on Thursday, per the AP and Palm Beach Post. Paulk told investigators she followed proper safety protocols but simply didn't see Carol Wright on the bridge. Wright's family says video suggests otherwise and is suing. Our original story from Feb. 7 follows:

A bicyclist fell to her death when a drawbridge connecting Palm Beach to the Florida mainland began rising before she could reach the other side. A bystander tried to pull her to safety but lost his grip, officials said. The woman was walking her bicycle toward West Palm Beach on Sunday afternoon and was within 10 feet of the barrier arms that halt traffic when the drawbridge started to move, police told news outlets. "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," West Palm Beach police spokesman Mike Jachles said, per the AP.

Why the bridge tender began raising the span before it was cleared of pedestrians will be a focus of the investigation, Jachles said. The bridge tender was described as "distraught," the Palm Beach Post reported. The Florida Department of Transportation maintains the bridge, but the bridge tenders are staffed by a private state contractor. "Palm Beach is accessible only through three bridges and this is the main bridge, so it’s very used by cyclists," bicycle safety advocate Juan Orellana told West Palm Beach television station WPTV.

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The bridge is equipped with bells and whistles to alert drivers and pedestrians that the drawbridge is going up. "For one thing, you will hear the bell before the arms go down, so when you hear the bell, you gotta get out of the way before the bridge goes up," Orellana said. The woman's name hasn't been released. The bridge was closed for more than six hours after the accident.

(More bicycling stories.)

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