WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Records requested and obtained by Contact 5 show Palm Beach County terminated eight bridge tenders over the last five years, including one for sleeping with pillows and a bed sheet while on duty at a Jupiter bridge.
A supervisor wrote in a memo that he discovered a dark bridge house, vacant workstation, pillows and a bed sheet during an early morning visit last March at a bridge along County Road 707.
The bridge tender denied sleeping.
Contact 5 also found a bridge tender with a history of suspensions and delaying first responders by refusing to keep a bridge down. The bridge tender raised the bridge and delayed fire-rescue responding to a water rescue, call records show.
Palm Beach County, responding to inquiries and public records request, has been very transparent. But many bridges in Palm Beach County and the Treasure Coast are owned by the Florida Department of Transportation.
That agency and its spokesman, Guillermo "Billy" Cando, has refused to answer any questions or respond to public records request. The company that it hires to run state bridges, Florida Drawbridges Inc., has also refused to answer questions.
Carol Wright, 79, was on the FDOT's Royal Palm Park Bridge on Feb. 6 when it opened with her still on it. Despite a valiant effort by an onlooker to save Wright, Contact 5 learned, she fell to her death.
With the FDOT failing to answer questions, Contact 5 then turned to Palm Beach County, which turned over a video of a motorist stuck on the Lantana Bridge.
The county fired the bridge tender and instituted a review of its opening procedures and opening of bridge spans.
According to the county, bridge owners set their own rules, procedures and training, and continuing education is not required.
Contact 5 also uncovered another video of a bicyclist clinging on for his life on the Parker Bridge in North Palm Beach. That bridge is owned by the FDOT.
Contact 5 showed the video from the Lantana bridge to attorney Lance Ivey, who represents Wright's family.
Ivey said the man was "desperately trying to get the bridge tender's attention, similar to Carol Wright's case, directly in front of the bridge house, there to be seen."
"It seems at this point and time that it may not be the waters, but the bridges, that are troubled in this paradise," Ivey said.
State Sen. Lori Berman, D-Boynton Beach, told Contact 5 that she now plans to speak with state transportation officials and her colleagues.
"It's troubling to hear these issues," Berman, who sits on the Senate's Committee on Transportation, said. "I'm concerned that there might be more times when bridge tenders have put people's lives at risk. I think that we in the state of Florida needs to examine this issue."
Both Berman and Ivey have suggestions.
"Maybe there's some kind of mechanical, electric device that we can be using on these things," Berman said.
"Even a garage door, when you push the command to open, will refuse to do so or close if they sense a person or object in harm's way," Ivey added.
Ivey said Wright's family will push for safety improvements and changes to prevent another tragedy.
"The bridge is only as safe as the people operating it," Ivey said. "The goal here is that it never happens to anyone ever again."