WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — The niece of Carol Wright, the woman killed while crossing the Royal Park Bridge in February, tells Contact 5 that better training for bridge tenders and safety improvements on bridges are needed immediately.
"This should have never happened. This is an easy fix, absolute easy fix, and it's been ignored for years, if not decades. The technology, the mechanisms, the training that could have been done and should be done," Wright's niece, Jill Sanchez, told Contact 5. "Until my aunt died a horrible death, there were way too many near misses that nobody knew about."
Wright fell 40 feet to her death Feb. 6 when the bridge opened as she crossed it with her bicycle. Sanchez described her painful loss and said her aunt never expressed any concern about crossing the bridge.
"The shock and disbelief is still there. It hurts, leaves a huge hole in everybody's heart," she said. "You don't want to think about the details because they're so gruesome and so tragic and so horrible and so preventable."
Sanchez said her family only learned about Wright's death after the story made national headlines.
"It was actually my mother, who lives in Charlotte, who hadn't spoken to her since Sunday morning, and when she couldn't get a hold of her, she's the one that actually saw the story that had gone nationwide about a woman who had fallen from a bridge," Sanchez said. "Within a matter of minutes, making a bunch of phone calls is how we found out Monday evening."
West Palm Beach police charged bridge tender Artissua Paulk with manslaughter and claim surveillance video contradicts her statement that she walked out onto the balcony and visually checked the bridge prior to opening it.
Contact 5 asked Sanchez if she had a message for Paulk.
"I don't have the words for that," Sanchez said. "God hasn't given me the words yet, and I don't want the anger to come out right now for that."
Attorney Lance Ivey, of Lytal, Reiter, Smith, Ivey & Fronrath, represents Wright's family.
"She was there to be seen and the bridgetender didn't look to see her and initiated the process that led to a several minute disturbing mental and physical death sentence for Carol," Ivey said. "Our goal here is to enact change so this doesn't happen again."
Sanchez said she's thankful for the efforts of a Good Samaritan at the bridge who grabbed Wright's arm to try to keep her from falling but couldn't hold on.
"I just want to say thank you to him from every member of my family. We are so grateful for everything that he did," she said. "He’s going to be changed forever and I just hope that God watches over him from here on out."
Sanchez said she's speaking out in the hopes of bringing safety improvements to an industry that Contact 5 discovered is plagued with low pay, close calls and now the death of Wright.
"It needs to change now, 100% needs to change now, and companies that run these bridges need to put immediate action into place," Sanchez said. "I don't want it to happen again. I don't want any other family to go through this."
Contact 5 recently traveled to a Miami bridge where a high-tech safety system is being testedby Florida Drawbridges, Inc, the same company that manages the Royal Park Bridge.
Suffering through the pain of losing her beloved aunt, Sanchez can now only live through the memories.
"I'll always remember her coming into a family gathering, just looking amazing," she said. "She was feisty, fun, quick-witted. I always say that her superpower was her words."