WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — A South Florida attorney said Monday a bridge tender was negligent and caused the "unimaginable" and "preventable" death of a 79-year-old woman who fell at least 50 feet off a West Palm Beach bridge earlier this month.
However, attorney Lance Ivey stopped short of announcing any lawsuits in the tragic death of Carol Wright, but said it's something his firm is looking into.
West Palm Beach police said Wright was walking east to west across the Royal Park Bridge — which connects the island of Palm Beach to West Palm Beach — on Feb. 6 when the bridge gates came down, an alarm sounded, and the deck suddenly started to go up.
The bridge ascended and Wright fell through a gap to the concrete below, police said. She was pronounced dead at the scene.
During a news conference Monday, Ivey said the bridge tender was "not paying attention" and failed to follow at least five different safety protocols before raising the bridge's deck.
Ivey believes the tender did not check at least three cameras and several mirrors that monitor the bridge, and did not physically come out onto the balcony of the bridge tower to perform a visual check to make sure there were no cars or pedestrians on the deck.
Ivey claimed the tender was supposed to do at least three balcony checks before raising the bridge.
"The failure to monitor the surveillance cameras, not look at the mirrors, and not come out of the bridge tender house — which is apparent — three times to do a visual to see who was there to be seen, including Carol, to me that would fall under anyone's definition of negligence," Ivey said.
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Ivey added the bridge tender could've prevented Wright's death by pushing an emergency stop button that would've halted the bridge's upward progress.
"Literally within 20 feet of the bridge tender, right directly in front of them, was Carol clinging on. And the bridge tender failed to produce this safety measure to stop the bridge from going up." Ivey said.
The attorney on Monday urged Florida Drawbridges Inc. — the company that employs the bridge tender — to come forward and provide evidence that shows the tender followed the proper safety protocols.
"Let's look into this and find out what you guys did right, if anything. The family deserves answers," Ivey said.
At a news conference last week, West Palm Beach police public information officer Mike Jachles said detectives are looking at whether there were any lapses in safety procedures by the bridge tender.
Jachles said there is a specific set of practices the bridge tender is supposed to follow prior to engaging the bridge and raising the deck. Those include the tender physically coming out onto the catwalk, walking around and doing a visual inspection to make sure there are no cars or people inside of the gates.
Over the weekend, West Palm Beach police said detectives are still looking for witnesses who may have seen Wright approaching or on the bridge right before the tragic fall.
If you have any information that can help investigators, call Det. Ivy Erhardt at 561-822-1684.
During Monday's news conference, Ivey said Wright was born in Connecticut but moved to South Florida with her family when she was young. She graduated from the University of Miami and was a columnist for Bon Appétit magazine, as well as a reporter for the Palm Beach Daily News and Palm Beach Business Weekly.
Ivey said Wright had ridden her bike to a book shop on Palm Beach on Feb. 6 and was returning home.
According to Ivey, Wright was pushing her bike along a pedestrian walkway on the bridge when the deck suddenly started to ascend.
"She legally and lawfully gets on the bridge. And without any expectation, unbeknownst to her, the bridge tender pushes the button that would ultimately turn out to be a slow, mental, and physical death sentence for Carol," Ivey said.
As the bridge went up, Wright grabbed onto a railing in a desperate effort to save herself.
"She's trying painfully to hold on with her 79-year-old hands. Her arms are weak and tired. She's weak and tired," Ivey said. "She maintained that position for several minutes. She gave it a valiant effort. But unfortunately, her 79-year-old arms and hands gave way."
Ivey said it's unclear if the bridge tender is back at work.
Jachles last week said West Palm Beach police have interviewed the bridge tender, along with witnesses who were inside their cars when the tragedy happened.
WPTV contacted Florida Drawbridges Inc., which said it's collecting evidence in the case. A spokesperson said that whenever a misfortunate bridge incident occurs in Florida, all inquiries are referred to the Florida Department of Transportation.
WPTV also contacted the FDOT as well but has not heard back.