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Dramatic details emerge on failed rescue in bridge death, police report

Report, released Friday, alleges bridge tender lied about checking before raising Royal Park Bridge
Death on Royal Park Bridge, Feb. 6
Posted at 6:02 PM, Mar 17, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-17 23:15:04-04

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Diego Us Pu on Feb. 6 rode his skateboard east on the south sidewalk of Royal Park Bridge that connects West Palm to Palm Beach. He stopped as the bridge was going up and what he saw was chilling.

A senior citizen was trapped, yelling for help and hanging on to the railing as the span opened, according to a probable cause affidavit report obtained by WPTV's Contact 5 on Friday.

Us Pu grabbed Wright's arm and tried to keep her from falling, but he told investigators he had no way to brace himself. and she was too heavy for him to hold so he had to let her go to keep himself from falling into the opening in the bridge.

Wright fell to her death.

West Palm Beach police released the probable cause affidavit on Friday in the arrest of the bridge tender, Artissua Lafaye Paulk.

It states Paulk lied when she told investigators she went out on the bridge house balcony three times to check for any pedestrian or motorist on the bridge.

Us Pu and another witness, contacted by WPTV, have so far refused to go on camera to talk about the tragedy.

The report also contains information that Paulk's supervisor told her to lie about checking the bridge from the balcony in a text message.

"When they talk to you make dam (sic) sure you tell them you walked outside on balcony three diff (sic) times to make sure no one was past gates," Kathie Harper, the supervisor, texted Paulk.

Harper then said to delete the message. Harper also told the Florida Department of Transportation, which owns the bridge, that a witness said that Wright went under the gate and entered the bridge after alarms had sounded.

But witnesses, according to the police report, did not say that Wright went under the gate.

The phone messages were obtained through a search warrant for Paulk's phone.

"Video evidence contradicts Artissua Paulk's statement that she walked out on onto the balcony and visually checked the bridge for vehicles or pedestrians prior to opening the bridge," the arrest report states.

Investigators said Paulk's actions showed "reckless disregard of human life and safety of a person."

Manslaughter by culpable negligence carries a maximum 15-year prison sentence.

Paulk, 43, worked for operator Florida Drawbridges Inc. for about a year and had been assigned to Royal Park Bridge for two months.

She told investigators that operating the bridge is easy but it requires "a lot of looking" because there is no sensor or warning that tells her if someone is on the bridge span.

She was arrested Thursday at her home in Greenacres and made her first appearance Friday morning in front of a judge.

Police said she was taken into custody with the assistance of the U.S. Marshals Service around noon.

The attorney who represents Wright's living relatives has long pointed the finger at Paulk and said her statements were untrue. He said the Wright family remains devastated.

"I mean, she earned the right to live out her golden years in South Florida with her loving family in a manner that she chose to do. That was wrongfully taken from her," said Attorney Lance Ivey, who represents Wright's family.

RELATED: Bridge tender says she checked span before woman fell to her death

Ivey has called for additional safety measures that protect the public against bridge tender negligence.

"Again, you wouldn't need any other additional remedies if the bridge tenders follow the basic protocols," Ivey said.

WPTV has also learned more about the bridge tender's past.

According to court documents, Paulk was arrested in 2014 for possession of marijuana and cocaine following a traffic stop. The charges were dropped by the state attorney.

In 2018, she received an animal welfare citation for failing to seek medical care for her dog, despite the animal's leg injury.