Bridge tender avoids prison, pleads guilty in deal approved by family of the late Carol Wright
Updated: Jan 24
THE BRIDGE TENDER controlling the Royal Park Bridge drawbridge when a woman walking across fell to her death last year will avoid prison after a judge approved a plea deal today Jan. 10.
Artissua Paulk of Greenacres will serve 18 months of house arrest and eight years of probation after pleading guilty to manslaughter in the death of Carol Wright of West Palm Beach.
Paulk, who originally pleaded not guilty last year, also will write a letter of apology to each of Wright’s two sisters and complete 200 hours of community service under the deal approved by Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Scott Suskauer.
She also is prohibited from working any job involving heavy machinery. While under house arrest, she will wear an ankle monitor but she will be allowed to leave the house to go to work and to attend school events involving her children.
Paulk, wearing a red jacket and white hoodie, replied “yes” each time when Suskauer asked several questions to make sure she understood the terms of the agreement.
“Most people for a variety of reasons are not responsible enough to get through probation. Please don't be one of those people, alright?’’ Suskauer said.
Also attending the hearing was Jill Sanchez, Wright’s niece, who declined Suskauer’s invitation to speak. Sanchez wiped tears and quickly left the courtroom when the 12-minute hearing ended.
Five other relatives of Wright’s attended via Zoom.
Paulk, 44, had no comment as she left the courthouse with her mother and a friend.
Wright, 79, had just left a bookstore on Palm Beach and was walking her bicycle west toward West Palm Beach across the drawbridge’s southern span at 1 p.m. on Feb. 6 when the bridge started to rise. A good Samaritan tried to save Wright, but she fell 40 feet to her death in a containment pit.
Although Paulk told investigators she followed protocols and made visual checks to see if anyone was on the bridge, West Palm Beach police detectives found video showing she did not. Police also obtained cell phone data showing Paulk was texting around the time of the incident and texting after the incident with her supervisor in an effort to cover up her failure to follow bridge-opening protocols.
Paulk, who was working for Florida Drawbridges Inc., faced up to 15 years in prison if convicted. Suskauer reminded her that she could still face that sentence if she violates her probation, which can be completed in five years if she abides by the terms of the plea deal.
Artissua Paulk (red jacket), a former bridge tender on the Royal Park Bridge, leaves the Palm Beach County courthouse Jan. 10, 2023, after pleading guilty to manslaughter in the death of Carol Wright. As part of a plea deal, she will avoid prison. (Joe Capozzi)
What led to the plea deal is unclear, but assistant state attorney Chrichet Mixon said after the hearing that the fact that Paulk has minor children was a factor.
“The family wanted accountability while still having compassion,’’ Mixon said. “The family took into consideration a lot of things. This is what they wanted.’’
The plea deal means Wright’s relatives, including her two older sisters, won’t have to sit through a trial and relive details of her death.
“I want to thank the lawyers for working hard on this case. This was not an easy case,’’ Suskauer said. “It’s a difficult matter. My sympathies to the victim’s family.’’
Paulk and her supervisor were fired by FDI last year. A civil lawsuit filed by Wright’s family against Florida Drawbridges Inc. was settled last summer, with the company agreeing to pay $8.3 million and enact a series of reforms.
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About the author
Joe Capozzi is an award-winning reporter based in Lake Worth Beach. He spent more than 30 years writing for newspapers, mostly at The Palm Beach Post, where he wrote about the opioid scourge, invasive pythons, the birth of the Ballpark of the Palm Beaches and Palm Beach County government. For 15 years, he covered the Miami Marlins baseball team. Joe left The Post in December 2020. View all posts by Joe Capozzi.