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Ugandan activist, 25, decapitated by gate in Utah’s Arches National Park, alleges $270 million claim

A widower plans to sue the National Park Service for more than $270 million after his wife, a celebrated Ugandan human rights activist, was decapitated by a freely swinging gate as the pair drove out of Arches National Park in Utah

Newlyweds Esther Nakajjigo, 25, and Ludovic Michaud, 26, were leaving the park June 13 to get ice cream when the gate swung out toward their car, piercing its side ‘like a hot knife through butter,’ according to a wrongful-death claim obtained by NBC News.

The ‘lance-like’ gate decapitated Nakajjigo and narrowly missed her husband, who was covered by her blood. 

‘[Esther] was always willing to help,’ Michaud told NBC News. ‘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.’

Esther Nakajjigo, 25, was a celebrated human rights advocate from Uganda who had taken fellowships in the U.S. to continue her efforts on behalf of Ugandan women and girls. She was tragically decapitated by the end of a swinging gate in Arches National Park in Moab, Utah

In 2019 Nakajjigo met her husband-to-be, Ludovic Michaud (pictured), 26, in Aurora Colo. On October 22 his lawyer filed a $270 million wrongful death claim against the National Parks Service

In 2019 Nakajjigo met her husband-to-be, Ludovic Michaud (pictured), 26, in Aurora Colo. On October 22 his lawyer filed a $270 million wrongful death claim against the National Parks Service

The claim related to the death of Nakajjigo asserts that if parks service workers had simply padlocked the gate open, it never would have swung free and pierced her car

The claim related to the death of Nakajjigo asserts that if parks service workers had simply padlocked the gate open, it never would have swung free and pierced her car

That’s one reason Michaud’s lawyer, Deborah Chang, served a claim October 22 to the National Parks Service that topped $270 million. The administrative claim is a necessary precursor to a lawsuit, which Chang said she plans to file in the next six months.

The nine-figure amount that the claim seeks accounts not only for Michaud’s anguish, but for his deceased wife’s potential as a fundraiser that he says was cut short by the negligence of parks workers. 

Nakajjigo was ‘destined to become our society’s future Princess Diana, Philanthropist Melinda Gates, or Oprah Winfrey,’ the claim argues.

Her remains were sent to Uganda in August for funeral services in her native country.

In life, Nakajjigo was recognized for her work on behalf of Ugandan girls before she was even an adult. 

The $270 million claim related to Nakajjigo's death accounts not only for her husband's anguish but the future fundraising potential of his wife, had she lived

The $270 million claim related to Nakajjigo’s death accounts not only for her husband’s anguish but the future fundraising potential of his wife, had she lived

Nakajjigo at age 17 was named Uganda's ambassador for women and girls after she used her college tuition money to found a nonprofit community health center. She later drew acclaim for projects such as Saving Innocence Challenge, a reality show that provided schooling and funded businesses for hundreds of Lake Victoria island girls

Nakajjigo at age 17 was named Uganda’s ambassador for women and girls after she used her college tuition money to found a nonprofit community health center. She later drew acclaim for projects such as Saving Innocence Challenge, a reality show that provided schooling and funded businesses for hundreds of Lake Victoria island girls

At 17, she was named Uganda’s ambassador for women and girls after she used her college tuition money to found a nonprofit community health center.

She drew international acclaim for projects such as Saving Innocence Challenge, a reality show that provided schooling and funded businesses for hundreds of Lake Victoria island girls who became pregnant out of desperation, in a phenomenon known as ‘sex for fish.’ 

Later Nakajjigo took her advocacy work to the United States, accepting fellowships at Drexel University in Philadelphia and the Watson Institute in Boulder, Colo. 

Last year in Aurora Colo., she met her husband on a dating site, NBC reported. Michaud had no idea the acclaim his date had garnered, but thought she was ‘really interesting.’

Nakajjigo's remains were sent to Uganda in August for funeral services in her native country

Nakajjigo’s remains were sent to Uganda in August for funeral services in her native country

The couple married in a courthouse this March as the pandemic curtailed travel. 

They had plans to hold a ceremony with Nakajjigo’s family in Uganda, but the fateful visit to Arches National Park intervened.

Michaud loved the park and its giant sandstone arches, weathered by wind but seemingly carved by the hand of a sculptor. He was excited to show his wife.

If National Parks Service workers had simply secured the gate to the Arches parking lot with a padlock, Nakajjigo would still be alive, according to Michaud’s claim.  

Nakajjigo’s horrific death has a precedent, states the document.

In 1980, the end of an unsecured gate in Stanislaus National Park in California impaled Randy Rost as he rode in the camper-topped bed of a pickup truck, killing him. 

Michaud took his new wife Nakajjigo to Arches National Park on June 13 to show the Uganda native the beauty of the natural sandstone curves

Michaud took his new wife Nakajjigo to Arches National Park on June 13 to show the Uganda native the beauty of the natural sandstone curves 

Nakajjigo's husband said he hopes that a planned lawsuit will prevent others from suffering the same tragic fate that his wife did as they left a parking lot in Arches National Park. 'Our mission is to make sure this doesn't happen again,' he said

Nakajjigo’s husband said he hopes that a planned lawsuit will prevent others from suffering the same tragic fate that his wife did as they left a parking lot in Arches National Park. ‘Our mission is to make sure this doesn’t happen again,’ he said

A newsletter publicized that earlier incident to National Parks Service employees, said Chang.

His wife’s decapitation left Michaud with post-traumatic stress syndrome, he said. 

Simple tasks that involve things that ‘Essie’ left behind – cooking rice that she bought, for instance – stop him in his tracks.

But he hopes a lawsuit will enable him to carry on his deceased wife’s life work – and to save others from her senseless fate, Michaud told NBC News.

‘Our mission is to make sure this doesn’t happen again,’ he said. 


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