DENVER — The family of a Denver woman, who was killed when the entrance gate at Arches National Park swung into the passenger compartment of a rental car and decapitated her, has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the U.S. Government.
Ludovic Michaud, Christine Namagembe and John Kateregga are seeking damages for negligence and negligent infliction of emotional distress.
Michaud, a French resident who had recently moved to Colorado, witnessed the accident.
He and his wife, Esther Nakajjigo, who had moved to Colorado from Uganda, went to Utah as a welcome break from being quarantined.
As they were leaving the park on June 13, 2020, heavy winds apparently blew the metal entrance gate into the passenger side of the vehicle, striking and killing Nakajjigo.
Michaud, a software engineer, said he is still experiencing flashbacks.
"The gate stopped behind my headrest," he said. "I can’t imagine if we had a couple of passengers [in the back seat.]"
The family's attorney, Deborah Chang, said Michaud himself escaped death by mere inches. She said the gate should have been secured, even in the open position.
Michaud said as the anniversary of the accident approached, he had more bouts of PTSD.
"Obviously, she was my soul mate," he said. "It's been a struggle."
Michaud said it was human error to leave the gate unlocked but also a design flaw to let it swing out toward traffic instead of away from approaching vehicles.
The accident consumed him.
"I decided I would fight for myself and for Essie’s family, try to get better, try to keep working also to support our family."
He said he wants people to know what Esther meant.
In a video compilation of the 25-year old's accomplishments, Nakajjigo looked at the camera and said, "Esther means star."
At age 17, the former Uganda resident was given property to sell for her own tuition but instead used it to open a hospital for women and girls, many of whom had been assaulted and neglected.
"You've got to be a star to brighten the lives of people who feel it's dark," she said in the video.
In a statement to Denver7, the young woman's parents wrote:
“Essie was an extraordinary woman, leader, friend, and daughter. This case is so important because Essie devoted her life to helping others — and she would have wanted to make sure we did something to ensure this never happens to another family visiting a national park in the United States. We also want to make sure that the world never forgets our amazing daughter, who came to America on her path to make the world a better place for women and girls everywhere.”
-Parents Christine Namagembe and John Bosco Kateregga
Attorney Deborah Chang said Esther accomplished more in her short life than many people do in a lifetime.
She said the young star's loss was keenly felt in Uganda, where she was named Ambassador of Hope for women and girls and where she started a reality TV show to help women and children.
"Many projects that were underway for women and children were stalled, and we lost this bright light," Chang said, "so we brought this lawsuit."
The suit alleges wrongful death, negligence and property damage.
Michaud said he knows the suit won't bring his beloved wife back, but it will help him and Nakajjigo's parents move forward.
Denver7 reached out to the National Park Service for comment about the lawsuit. We received no response.