Drawbridge operator avoids prison for bicyclist’s death

January 11, 2023 GMT

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) — A drawbridge operator who killed a bicyclist last year when she raised the spans before making sure they were clear has pleaded guilty to manslaughter in a deal that allows her to avoid prison time.

Artissua Paulk, 43, was sentenced to eight years of probation and 200 hours of community service at Tuesday’s hearing. Her probation could be cut to five years if she completes all conditions imposed.

Paulk was operating a bridge that connects West Palm Beach and Palm Beach on Feb. 6 when 79-year-old Carol Wright began walking her bike across the span. Before opening the bridge to let a boat pass and after lowering its entrance barriers, Paulk was supposed to go outside the bridge tender’s station and make sure no cars, pedestrians or bicyclists were on it.

But Wright was still on the bridge and when it opened, she fell about 50 feet (15 meters) onto a concrete slab and died. A retired newspaper editor, Wright had been riding back from a bookstore.

Paulk 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.

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