The family of a women’s rights activist from Uganda has filed a $270 million administrative claim against the National Park Service after she was killed by an unsecured gate that sliced through her car as she sat with her new husband.
Esther “Essie” Nakajjigo, 25, drove to Arches National Park in Utah with her husband Ludovic Michaud on June 13 as a means of celebrating the one-year anniversary of when they’d first met on a dating app, the Associated Press reported.
Nakajjigo was in the passenger seat of a rental car when strong winds sent the park’s entrance gate swinging into the road — and slicing through their car “like a hot knife through butter,” the claim said, according to the AP.
“I had a ton of flashbacks. Several dozen per day,” Michaud, 26, told KCNC. “I’m still trying to figure out how to move forward, how to wake up in the morning.”
The wrongful death and personal injury claim, which is a precursor to a formal lawsuit, alleges that the sharp poles on the gate frequently swing into roadways when they’re not secured, and that the National Park Service should have known they could easily end up in the path of an oncoming vehicle, the AP reported.
The claim also says that the federal government knew about the issue, as a man was previously impaled by an unsecured gate in 1980 at Stanislaus National Forest in California.
“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,” the claim reportedly said.
Michaud is reportedly seeking a little over $240 million in damages, while Nakajjigo’s parents are seeking $30 million. Attorney Deborah Chang — who did not immediately return PEOPLE’s request for comment — will file a formal lawsuit if the claim is rejected.
National Park Service spokeswoman Vanessa Lacayo did not immediately return PEOPLE’s request for comment, but expressed sympathy for the victim’s family in a statement to the AP. She did not address the multi-million dollar claim.
“She was the woman I was trying to spend my life with,” Paris native Michaud told ABC affiliate KMGH of Nakajjigo, whom he married in March. “Everything was perfect.”
Nakajjigo was Uganda’s ambassador for women and girls, and ran a health center in her home country that she set up when she was just 17 years old to provide free health services to adolescents.
She was also the brains behind two reality TV shows that aimed to empower young mothers and encourage girls to stay in school.
She reportedly moved to Colorado for a social entrepreneurship program at the Watson Institute in Boulder.
“It could have happened to anyone and if nothing is done, it’s going to happen again,” Michaud told KCNC. “I don’t know how I could stand to see another thing like that happen, and I just want to make sure we do whatever we can to avoid [it], to save another life.”
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