A family is suing a Utah national park for $270 million after a newlywed woman was “decapitated by a metal gate” while on a trip with her new husband.
Esther Nakajjigo, 25, died on June 13 when an unsecured metal gate swung into the road. Horrifically, it decapitated her as she sat in the passenger seat beside her husband Ludovic Michaud, 26, as they were exiting the parking lot at the Utah landmark.
The newlyweds had been celebrating the one-year anniversary of when they’d first met on a dating app.
The couple, from Denver, was driving towards the exit when a gust of wind suddenly lifted the metal gate, leading the arm of it to swing into the roadway, impaling the car in the process.
They had been on their way to get ice cream at the time, when “the end of the lance-like gate pierced the side of their car and penetrated it like a hot knife through butter,” according to the claim, obtained by NBC News.
Esther’s family has now filed a $270 million wrongful death claim against Arches National Park.
While her husband is seeking $240 million in damages from the National Park Service, her family is seeking $30 million.
The claim states “the National Park Service has, in fact, known for decades that an unsecured metal pipe gate creates an undetectable hazard and dangerous condition,” as reported by CBS Denver.
Michaud’s and the Nakajjigo family’s claim was filed by attorney Deborah Chang. She wrote that the National Park Service has been using an entrance and exit gate which is made of metal poles with spear-like sharp ends and that they were known to swing into the roadways if left unsecured.
The National Park Service and Arches National Park are being accused of not securing the gate, which was installed to swing in the wrong direction and was being held open by a flimsy metal tab that according to the claim, was worn down and rounded.
Michaud’s attorneys continued by explaining that the federal government had been aware of these dangers, with a reference being made to an accident in which a man was impaled by an unsecured gate as he rode in the back of a pickup in California’s Stanislaus National Forest.
In the claim, it is alleged that three other people have died from similar incidents involving gates over the past 32 years. It’s then argued that a simple padlock priced at $8 would have prevented this particular accident from happening, as it would have stopped the gate from swinging.
Esther was born in Kampala, Uganda, and had used her university tuition money to start a nonprofit community healthcare centre, at just 17-years-old. She wanted it to provide free reproductive health services to girls and young women, according to a biography included in the claim.
In the same year, she was awarded Woman Achiever Award by the United Nations Population Fund. She was also named Uganda’s Ambassador for Women and Girls at the ceremony.
Throughout her life, she received numerous other humanitarian awards and even created a well-received reality television series aimed at empowering young mothers.
In early 2019, she was offered a full scholarship to the Watson Institute in Boulder, Colorado, where she started a social entrepreneurship program.
In March, Esther married Michaud and the two travelled to the Arches National Park to celebrate the one-year anniversary of when they first met on a dating app.
Michaud told NBC: “The most important thing for me is to try continuing what she’s done.
“She’s got quite a few projects started, and we need to make sure those projects survive after her. … A lot of people just want to continue that because that’s what she would have wanted from us.”
Esther’s husband had been living with her in Denver, Colorado, but wasn’t injured in the accident. He told the news station that he found himself completely covered in his wife’s blood.
Understandably, this was an extremely traumatising experience and he has continued to suffer from PTSD months later.
Michaud said: “I was a couple of inches from dying, but I didn’t, and right now I have a mission: It’s to make sure what she’s done continues.”
Arches National Park is mostly known for its pristine sandstone arches and mainly its massive red Delicate Arch, which has become a popular spot for Instagram pictures.
Once the coronavirus pandemic ended, the couple had been planning to throw a big wedding in Uganda. Instead, Michaud is in mourning but is hoping that his claim will allow him to save others from going through similar pain.