HomeOutdoorsNewsWrongful Death Trial Begins Over Woman Killed in Arches National Park

Wrongful Death Trial Begins Over Woman Killed in Arches National Park

by Amy Myers
Photo by: Jim Lane/Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Two years after the horrific death of a women’s rights activist from Uganda at Arches National Park, the wrongful death trial has finally begun.

On June 13, 2020, Esther “Essie” Nakajigo, 25, and her husband, Ludovic “Ludo” Michaud, 26, were driving through Arches National Park to get ice cream during their camping trip. Unfortunately, during their drive, strong winds blew a metal gate closed in the wrong direction, slicing through the driver’s side “like a hot knife through butter,” according to an administrative claim.

The accident spared Michaud, but the Arches National Park gate completely decapitated Nakajigo.

Following the terrible accident, Michaud and Nakajigo’s family decided to file a wrongful death lawsuit against the National Park Service. They claimed that officials didn’t sufficiently secure the gate and that the existing “worn down” device was a “flimsy metal tab.”

“For want of an $8 basic padlock, our world lost an extraordinary warrior for good. A young woman influencer who was destined to become our society’s future Princess Diana, Philanthropist Melinda Gates or Oprah Winfrey,” Nakajigo’s family stated at the time.

The trial began at a federal courthouse in Salt Lake City, less than four hours from Arches National Park. According to previous reports, Michaud is seeking more than $240 million in compensation while Nakajigo’s family is seeking $30 million.

“We just don’t want this to ever happen again,” Michaud said in an interview, detailing the emotional damage the incident has caused.

“I had a ton of flashbacks. Several dozen per day,” he continued. “I’m still trying to figure out how to move forward, how to wake up in the morning. We just don’t want this to ever happen again.”

Loved Ones’ Attorney Claims Arches National Park Knew About ‘Flimsy’ Gate Device

According to Attorney Deborah Chang, who represents Michaud and Nakajigo’s parents, the National Park Service was well aware of the problem with Arches’ metal gates. In her claim, she stated that the Park Service has used the same metal gates for years that have “spear-like sharp ends” and a tendency to swing into roads without proper security.

Chang also claimed that Arches National Park employees “knew or should have known that winds strong enough to carve stone are certainly strong enough to blow an unrestrained metal pipe gate into the path of an oncoming vehicle.”

Further, the defense team cited a similar incident that occurred in 1980, when an unsecured gate in  California’s Stanislaus National Forest impaled a man in the back of a pickup.

Along with the current lawsuit, Michaud’s mission is to continue Nakajigo’s efforts as a women’s rights activist. Nakajigo began a nonprofit community health care center in Uganda when she was just 17 and has won multiple humanitarian awards since then, including the Woman Achiever Award from the United Nations Population Fund.

“The most important thing for me is to try continuing what she’s done,” Michaud said. “A lot of people just want to continue that because that’s what she would have wanted from us.”