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Bridge tender texted 'I killed a lady on the bridge,' according to probable cause affidavit

Artissua Lafay Paulk released from jail after posting $20K bail
Artissua Lafay Paulk, bridge tender arrested, first court appearance, March 18, 2022
Posted at 11:25 AM, Mar 18, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-18 18:12:53-04

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — A West Palm Beach bridge tender was in court Friday after she was arrested in connection with the February death of a 79-year-old West Palm Beach woman who fell from the Royal Park Bridge.

Artissua Lafaye Paulk, 43, of Greenacres, faces a charge of one count of manslaughter by culpable negligence in the death of Carol Wright.

A judge set her bond at $20,000 and issued a no-contact order with witnesses or Wright's family.

She posted bail and was released from custody Friday afternoon, according to jail records.

Paulk was arrested Thursday after police said their investigation revealed that video evidence contradicted Paulk's statement that she walked outside to check the bridge for vehicles and pedestrians before opening the bridge.

A probable cause affidavit obtained by WPTV shows that Paulk's supervisor, Kathie Harper, who is also her mother-in-law, told her to tell police that she checked the bridge.

The two women sent a series of text messages after the incident.

In one of the messages, the report shows that Harper instructed Paulk to lie to investigators about checking the bridge house balcony for pedestrians.

"When they talk to you, make dam sure you tell them you walked outside the balcony 3 diff times to make sure no one was past gates n delete this msg..." Paulk's supervisor texted her on Feb. 6, the date of Wright's death.

Attorneys and family members said Wright was pushing her bike along a pedestrian walkway on the bridge when the deck suddenly started to ascend. The family's position is that the bridge tender was negligent.

"I'm here with police I killed a lady on the bridge," the affidavit shows that Paulk texted someone on the afternoon of the incident.

Paulk was then told by Harper to delete her text messages. Investigators also said Paulk tried to blame the victim.

In a text message, Paulk claimed Wright went under the gate to retrieve her cellphone and fell after trying to pick it back up.

Photo of Carol Wright, who fell to her death off Royal Park Bridge in West Park Beach
A poster board shows an enlarged photograph of Carol Wright, 79, who fell to her death off the Royal Park Bridge in West Park Beach on Feb. 6, 2022.

West Palm Beach police spokesman Mike Jachles said video evidence did not support Paulk's statements.

"There are a number of different camera angles from different sources that were taken into account for evidence and reviewed to corroborate the witnesses' statements," Jachles said.

The attorney for Wright's family calls the incident a conspiracy between both the bridge tender and her mother-in-law/supervisor.

"The disturbing part is the lengths that they were willing to go to perpetrate a fraud against Carol Wright, who wasn't here to give her side of the story," attorney Lance Ivey said Friday.

Investigators said that Paulk's actions showed reckless disregard for human life.

Details in the report also said a skateboarder near the bridge tried to save Wright but could not hold on to her hand.

Wright had ridden her bike to a book shop on Palm Beach on Feb. 6 and was returning home, according to attorney Lance Ivey, who is representing her family.

Paulk worked for Florida Drawbridges Inc., which operates the Royal Park Bridge, for about a year and had been assigned to the bridge for two months.

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

It's unclear if Harper will face charges in the case.