WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - A bicyclist fell to her death when a drawbridge connecting Palm Beach to the Florida mainland began rising before she could reach the other side. A bystander tried to pull her to safety but lost his grip, officials said.
The woman was walking her bicycle toward West Palm Beach on Sunday afternoon and was within 10 feet of the barrier arms that halt traffic when the drawbridge started to move, police told news outlets.
"The woman tried to hang on. There was a bystander nearby who tried to help her, but tragically she fell five or six stories below where she died landing on concrete," West Palm Beach police spokesman Mike Jachles said.
Police described the bridge tender as "distraught," the Palm Beach Post reported. Why the bridge tender began raising the span before it was cleared of pedestrians will be a focus of the investigation, Jachles said.
"That bridge tender has certain safety protocols to follow, specific safety protocols," Jachles said. "That includes lowering of the gates for the vehicles, lowering of the gates for the pedestrians, and making several visual confirmations that there is nobody at either of the spans or past those gates."
The Florida Department of Transportation maintains the bridge, but the bridge tenders are staffed by a private state contractor.
"Palm Beach is accessible only through three bridges and this is the main bridge, so it’s very used by cyclists," bicycle safety advocate Juan Orellana told West Palm Beach television station WPTV.
The bridge is equipped with bells and whistles to alert drivers and pedestrians that the drawbridge is going up.
"For one thing you will hear the bell before the arms go down, so when you hear the bell you gotta get out of the way before the bridge goes up," he said.
Police are planning to review surveillance video from the bridge as part of their investigation.
The woman’s name has not been released. The bridge was closed for more than six hours after the accident.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.