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Artissua Lafaye Paulk appears in a mugshot.

Artissua Lafaye Paulk.

A Florida bridgetender who was operating a structure that opened and dropped a 79-year-old woman to her death has been arrested and charged in connection with the incident.

Artissua Lafaye Paulk, 43, of Wichita Drive in Greenacres, Fla., is charged with one count of manslaughter by culpable negligence, according to a press release by the West Palm Beach Police Department. The police department said it could not release the name of the victim under Marsy’s Law, a privacy law for crime victims. The Palm Beach Post identified the victim as Carol Wright by citing a Feb. 15 news conference where the family voluntarily identified the victim.

Officers obtained a warrant for Paulk’s arrest on March 15, the police department said. Paulk was arrested at her home Thursday afternoon.  The authorities say Paul “has cooperated with detectives during the investigation.”

The defendant is accused of opening the Royal Park Bridge on Feb. 6 when the elderly victim “was walking her bike across the span when it opened, sending the victim to her death,” the police department said in its press release.

The Palm Beach Post reported that the victim fell 50 to 60 feet to her death after attempting to hang onto the railing as the bridge span opened. Her family is threatening a lawsuit but was waiting for the police investigation to wrap up, the report noted.

This was the scene after a 79-year-old victim fell to her death off the Royal Park Bridge in Florida on Feb. 6, 2022. (Image via the West Palm Beach Police Dept.)

This was the scene after a 79-year-old victim fell to her death off the Royal Park Bridge in Florida on Feb. 6, 2022. (Image via the West Palm Beach Police Dept.)

Detectives obtained a concomitant search warrant for the defendant’s cell phone. While they say “Paulk was not using her phone at the time of the incident,” they did find other information that was of concern.

The defendant is charged under Fla. Stat. § 782.07(1). That statute reads, in relevant part:

(1) The killing of a human being by the act, procurement, or culpable negligence of another, without lawful justification . . . and in cases in which such killing shall not be excusable homicide or murder, according to the provisions of this chapter, is manslaughter, a felony of the second degree.

Under Florida’s model jury instructions, culpable negligence is defined as follows:

Each of us has a duty to act reasonably toward others. If there is a violation of that duty, without any conscious intention to harm, that violation is negligence. But culpable negligence is more than a failure to use ordinary care for others. In order for negligence to be culpable, it must be gross and flagrant. Culpable negligence is a course of conduct showing reckless disregard for human life, or for the safety of persons exposed to its dangerous effects, or such an entire want of care as to raise a presumption of a conscious indifference to consequences, or which shows wantonness or recklessness, or a grossly careless disregard for the safety and welfare of the public, or shows such an indifference to the rights of others as is equivalent to an intentional violation of such rights.

The case against the defendant has not yet been docketed in an online court system.

The defendant appeared in court Friday morning.  A judge set bond at $20,000 and ordered Paulk not to speak with witnesses or with the victim’s family, West Palm Beach ABC affiliate WPBF reported.

[image via the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s office]

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