WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Monday marks one year since Carol Wright, 79, tragically fell to her death when the Royal Park Bridge in West Palm Beach opened as she walked across it with her bicycle.
Just standing near the Royal Park Bridge in still difficult for Wright’s niece, Jill Sanchez.
"It doesn’t feel like a year yet. For me, the shock and disbelief still hasn’t worn off," Sanchez said. “I tend to keep away from this area, so being back here is hard.”
Sanchez's beloved aunt died at the bridge on Feb. 6, 2022 when the bridge tender who recently pleaded guilty to manslaughter opened the bridge while Wright walked across it with her bicycle.
“This should’ve never happened. And as a family, our only goal was that it never happens again,” Sanchez said.
That goal now looks like reality. Lidar and thermal camera technology will be installed on more than 80 state-owned moveable bridges through 2024, according to a spokesperson with the Florida Department of Transportation.
FDOT tells Contact 5 that six bridges are already outfitted, according to the state.
A statement sent to Contact 5 by FDOT’s deputy communications director Michael Williams said, "FDOT districts may choose a technology solution that best fits the needs and specifications of a particular bridge.” The statement also said that "safety remains the number one priority of the Department, and we continually look for ways to provide a safer traveling experience for those using state-owned facilities, including pedestrians and cyclists.”
“Carol is smiling. She’s definitely smiling, she’s definitely proud. She’s definitely beaming from ear to ear for the progress that has been made so fast,” Sanchez said.
Attorney Lance Ivey with Lytal, Reiter, Smith, Ivey & Fronrath represented Wright’s estate and pleaded for technology enhancements days after the tragedy.
"Future generations are safer because of Carol,” Ivey said. “Carol Wright is the pioneer, the pathfinder that caused this correction that will go forward for hundreds of years and protect others.”
Contact 5 traveled to Miami last March to the Fifth Street Bridge, which runs over the Miami River, where we showed viewers how the same company contracted to manage the Royal Park Bridge is testing computers and lasers meant to aid bridge tenders.
One of the developers explained how it uses lasers and artificial intelligence to prevent a bridge tender from raising a span if a person or moveable object is detected on it.
“This system removes sole dependence on tenders. It does everything automatically,” Ilya Pressman told Contact 5 last year.
Following Wright’s death, Contact 5 did some digging and we discovered other frightening incidents on bridges in Palm Beach County.
A Lantana bridge tender was fired by the county after raising the Ocean Avenue Bridge with a car still on it.
A bridge tender on duty at the Parker Bridge in North Palm Beach told police that "she did not see anyone on the bridge," when she raised it, trapping a bicyclist.
Our investigation also uncovered a bridge tender allegedly sleeping on the job and another accused of delaying first responders.
“As we found out in the year throughout the investigation, there were a lot of close calls no one knew about,” Sanchez said.
State Sen. Lori Berman, D-Boca Raton, who became a vocal proponent of making our bridges safer, told Contact 5 that she learned FDOT budgeted $14 million for the new technology.
“I am really pleased that the DOT is doing this,” Berman said. “I hope this means that we’ll never have another tragedy like the Wright family had to endure.”
“I know Carol’s watching over all of this, and we miss her and I think this just give us one more little bit of peace that we needed,” Sanchez said.
As part of an $8.2 million settlement reached last year with the company that operates the bridge and others throughout the state, bridge tenders are now required to receive recertification training, periodic audits, and all of them must watch a 23-minute video on Wright’s life.
Wright’s family also established a $1 million dollar scholarship at the University of Miami in her name.