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Estate of woman who fell to her death from Florida drawbridge sues operators

By Jason Hanna and Jamiel Lynch, CNN

The estate of a woman who fell to her death when a Florida drawbridge opened while she was walking across it has sued a bridge attendant and the company that operates the span.

Carol Wright’s estate filed the lawsuit Monday against the bridge operator on duty at the time of the February 6 incident in West Palm Beach, Artissua Paulk; and Florida Drawbridges Inc.

Wright, 79, was walking her bike on the Royal Park Bridge — which connects West Palm Beach to Palm Beach across the Intracoastal Waterway — when it opened, police said.

Wright held onto a railing, and a bystander who was on a fixed part of the bridge tried to grab her, but she lost her grip and fell onto a concrete landing, killing her, police said.

The lawsuit alleges Paulk and FDI “negligently opened the drawbridge,” causing Wright “first to suffer extreme mental pain and suffering as she clung to the bridge, and second, to fall to a concrete surface resulting in physical injuries that led to her death.”

The suit asks for monetary compensation, in part for loss of earnings, pain and suffering, and medical and funeral expenses.

CNN has not been able to reach Paulk — who was charged earlier this month with one count of manslaughter by culpable negligence in the incident — or her attorney for comment on the lawsuit or the charge against her.

Florida Drawbridges has received the lawsuit and is reviewing the allegations, attorney Mike Piscitelli told CNN in a written statement.

“Ms. Wright’s death was tragic; however, the company performs over 25,000 openings a month and has the appropriate safe operating procedures in place,” the statement reads.

Police: Video contradicts attendant’s statement

In a probable cause affidavit filed this month to support the charges against Paulk, a police officer wrote that video evidence contradicted Paulk’s statement that she walked out onto a balcony and visually checked the bridge for vehicles and pedestrians prior to opening the bridge.

Paulk, according to the affidavit, had described measures she took to ensure no one was on the bridge, including visually checking several times from a balcony, turning the traffic lights red, closing the pedestrian gate, and making announcements that the bridge was going to open.

Paulk said she didn’t see any people or bicycles inside the gates when she checked before opening the bridge.

The affidavit, however, notes that surveillance video of the balcony does not show anyone coming out on it after 9:03 a.m. that day. Wright fell in the early afternoon, police said.

An attorney for Wright’s family, Lance Ivey, gave CNN a statement Monday that reads in part: “We have further learned that this was not an isolated incident. There has been other similar incidents and we are confident that going forward we will discover many more. It appears as though it’s not the waters but the bridges that are troubled in this paradise.”

“In light of everything that has transpired, the family has decided to file suit today against Florida Drawbridges Inc. and the bridgetender. The family is hopeful that change can be brought about to protect another family from the pain and hardship that they have been forced to endure,” the statement continued.

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