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Florida bridgetender faces manslaughter charge in woman's death

The bridgetender said she checked several times before opening the span, according to the FHP report. Surveillance video will show that's not true, a lawyer said.

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — A Florida bridgetender who raised a drawbridge to Palm Beach before a 79-year-old woman walking her bicycle reached the other side has been charged with manslaughter in her death, police said.

West Palm Beach police arrested the 43-year-old bridgetender at her home on Thursday, police said in a news release. She's identified as Artissua Lafaye Paulk, according to WPEC-TV, citing the West Palm Beach Police Department.

Paulk opened the bridge over the Intracoastal Waterway on Feb. 6 as the cyclist walked across. The woman almost made it, slipping from the grasp of a bystander who tried to pull her to safety before plunging to her death.

The Florida Department of Transportation said in its report released Thursday that the bridgetender said she checked multiple times and did not see the woman before opening the span that afternoon.

RELATED: Bicyclist falls to her death from rising Florida drawbridge

Credit: West Palm Beach Police Department

The FDOT report said Paulk told investigators that she walked out on the balcony before and after turning on the red lights and lowering gates to stop traffic, made two announcements on loudspeakers, and ultimately stepped outside three times to make sure no one was on the bridge, the Palm Beach Post reported.

Surveillance video will show that this account is false, according to attorney Lance C. Ivey, representing the dead woman's family.

“I believe that when we get the video evidence of this incident, it will reveal unequivocally that the bridge tender’s statement doesn’t align with the true facts,” Ivey told WPTV.

The police statement said investigators searched the bridgetender's cellphone and determined she had not been using it at the time.

Paulk was interviewed by detectives again on Thursday after being brought to police headquarters. She was then taken to jail, where she was booked on one count of manslaughter by culpable negligence.

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