Trial begins over death of Ugandan activist who was decapitated by a swinging gate in Utah park

The trial over a wrong death lawsuit of a Ugandan activist has begun. Esther Nakajjigo was killed at Utah’s Arches National Park when a metal pipe from a swinging gate decapitated the 25-year-old.

Ludovic Michaud was driving around the scenic red rock landscapes of Utah’s Arches National Park on a windy spring day in 2020 when something unthinkable happened: A metal gate whipped around, sliced through the passenger door of his car and decapitated his new 25-year-old wife, Esther Nakajjigo.

The tragic accident is now the subject of a wrongful death lawsuit Michaud and Nakajjigo’s family are pursuing, in which they argue that the U.S. Park Service was negligent and did not maintain the gates at the entrances and exits to the parks, leading to Nakajjigo’s death.

In opening statements Monday in Salt Lake City, attorneys representing Michaud and Nakajjigo’s family said they were seeking $140 million in damages from the government.


The family’s lawsuit claims when the national parks reopened in April 2020 after being shuttered due to COVID-19, rangers at the national park in Utah didn’t secure the gate in place, which in effect “turned a metal pipe into a spear that went straight through the side of a car, decapitating and killing Esther Nakajjigo.”

United States attorneys do not dispute that park officials shouldered blame, but argued the amount the family should be awarded is far less and called into questions the ways in which the damages being sought were calculated. They said claims by the family’s lawyers that Nakajjigo, who was 25 at the time of her death, was on track to be a non-profit CEO shortly were too speculative to be used as a basis for damages.

“We don’t know with any level of certainty what her plans were,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Nelson said.

Attorney Randi McGinn, representing Nakajjigo’s family, on Monday described the death in gruesome detail. After requesting that the family leave the courtroom, she recounted the moment Michaud realized his wife had been killed, when he inhaled the copper-tinged smell of blood, turned to figure out what it was and saw she was dead.

Opening statements previewed how the trial will hinge less on varying accounts of the accident and instead focus on Nakajiigo’s biography and earning potential, which is used to calculate a portion of the damages. McGinn said if her life hadn’t been cut short that Nakajjigo’s trajectory suggested she would have gone on to become a non-profit CEO who could eventually have netted an annual income in the hundreds of thousands of dollars — or millions.

Delicate Arch is seen at Arches National Park on April 25, 2021, near Moab, Utah. 

Delicate Arch is seen at Arches National Park on April 25, 2021, near Moab, Utah. 
(AP Photo/Lindsay Whitehurst, File)

She described Nakajjigo as a prominent woA 45-year-old German man who had offered babysitting services online went on trial Tuesday in the western city of Cologne accused of almost 100 counts of child sexual abuse.

Prosecutors told the Cologne regional court that the man documented the abuse of babies, children and teenagers, and shared videos and images of “unimaginable brutality” with dozens of people, German news agency dpa reported.

Investigators who discovered vast amounts of incriminating data last year at the married man’s home, in the town of Wermelskirchen, said at the time that they had never previously “encountered such a level of inhuman brutality and callous indifference to the suffering of young children.”

Prosecutors are seeking a sentence of 15 years imprisonment followed by continued security confinement if the man, whose name wasn’t released for privacy reasons, is convicted.


In a separate case Tuesday, four men were convicted by a court in Frankfurt for their involvement in an online platform known as “Boystown,” which was used to spread images of child sexual abuse.

A 49-year-old man and a 42-year-old man were sentenced to 12 and 10 years in prison, respectively. The court also ordered them to be detained after the end of their term, Frankfurt prosecutors said.

A 60-year-old German man who was arrested sitting at his computer in Paraguay was sentenced to eight years in prison for his role in operating the darknet site. A 66-year-old man from Hamburg, who was considered a particularly active user, received a seven-year sentence, officials said.

The verdicts can be appealed.

The Boystown site was a major international platform for child sexual abuse images with more than 400,000 members before it was taken down last year.


Authorities are working to identify further users of the site and bring them to’s rights activist who rose from poverty to become the host of a solutions-oriented reality television series in Uganda focused on empowering women on issues such as education and healthcare.

Nakajjigo worked on fundraising to open a hospital in an underserved part of Kampala, Uganda’s capital, became a philanthropic celebrity and immigrated to the United States for a fellowship at the Boulder, Colorado-based Watson Institute for emerging leaders.

Nelson, the government’s attorney, said an appropriate award would be $3.5 million, far less than the $140 million being pursued. He said he didn’t deny Nakajjigo was an extraordinary person, but argued it was difficult to speculate what kind of work she would have gone on to do. He noted she had recently worked as a host at a restaurant around the time of her death and didn’t have a Bachelor’s degree.

Arches National Park is a 120-square-mile desert landscape near Moab, Utah, that is visited by more than 1.5 million people annually. It’s known for a series of sculpture-like fins and arches made of an orange sandstone that wind and water have eroded for centuries.

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