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Entrance gate pierces passenger side of car, kills Denver woman at Arches National Park

Attorney: 'For want of an $8 padlock, woman lost life'
Posted at 10:15 PM, Nov 12, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-13 10:14:43-05

DENVER -- Ludovic Michaud has notified the Department of the Interior and the National Park Service that he intends to file a wrongful death lawsuit because of a crash at the entrance to Arches National Park that claimed the life of his beloved wife, Esther Nakajjigo.

Nakajjigo accomplished more by age 25 than most people do in a lifetime. She served as an ambassador for women and girls in her native Uganda, and created a reality TV show to combat early pregnancy and forced marriage.

In June, the couple needed a break from quarantine, so they drove to Utah.

What awaited them there was unthinkable.

"She was the woman I was trying to spend my life with," said the Parisian who'd moved to the U.S. "Everything was perfect."

Michaud and Nakajjigo had been married for just under three months when they decided to go see the Arches.

As they entered the park on June 13, high winds blew the park entrance gate, a swinging pole, back across the highway.

"I didn't see it," he said.

The pole gate pierced the passenger compartment of the couple's rental car, a Chevy Malibu, and decapitated Esther.

"I went from the best time of my life to the worst, in one second," he said. "I turned my head and saw what I wish I didn't see."

A video tribute to his wife showed her talking about her name, in an earlier recording.

"Esther means star," she said proudly.

Helping others was part of her soul.

"I'm trying to be a star, to be able to lighten the lives of the people who feel it's dark," she said.

Ludovic's attorney, Deborah Chang, told Denver7 the entrance gate should have been locked open, and not allowed to swing freely. She also said it should have been installed to swing inwards for incoming traffic, not outwards.

"For the sake of a padlock and chain, that you have in your garage... that is all that would have made a difference in his world," Chang said.

Chang filed the paperwork notifying the National Park Service that a lawsuit will be filed in U.S. District Court in Denver, seeking damages for Ludovic, and for Nakajjigo's mother and father.

She said entrance gates should be locked into place whether they are open or closed.

"For how majestic these parks are, it's kind of shocking how rudimentary these gates are," she said.

In the court documents filed in U.S. District Court in Denver, Chang described the gates as the same color as the landscape.

She said there was nothing that visually set them apart.

Ludovic said he knows the suit won't bring his beloved wife back, but he wants to make sure the same type of tragic accident doesn't happen to anyone else.

"It could have happened to the people in front of us, or behind us," he said.

Denver7 reached out to he National Park Service to ask about the accident.

A spokeswoman said the single vehicle accident happened June 13 on the entrance road of Arches National Park, near the Visitor's Center, and that the entrance was shut down for several hours.

"Our sympathies go out to Esther Nakajjigo's family, friends and those whose lives she impacted," Public Affairs specialist Vanessa Lacayo said in a statement. "Emergency response personnel from the National Park Service, Grand County Sheriff’s Office, Grand County EMS, Moab City Police Department, Utah Highway Patrol and Moab Valley Fire Department responded to the scene to provide assistance. At this time, I do not have more information to share."

We asked the Park Service about the swing gates and were told that both sides are now padlocked when in the "open" position.