Arches National Park might be to blame for the death of a woman whose car was hit by a gate during an extreme windstorm in June.
Ugandan human rights activist Esther Nakajjigo, 25, died suddenly June 13 near the park entrance. Investigators said the gate that swung into traffic because of a gust of wind had not been properly secured. Additionally, a supervisor with Arches National Park reportedly told law enforcement on the scene that the park could be at fault.
The findings, obtained by The Times-Independent through a public records request, outline the series of events that led to Nakajjigo’s death, the events that transpired after the crash, and observations by the Grand County Sheriff’s deputy who investigated the incident.
Upon first arriving at the scene, the investigating deputy said in his report that he began taking photos and looking for evidence, assisting a medical examiner on the scene, when a park ranger approached him.
“While assisting [the medical examiner,] the Arches supervisor […] requested Grand County Sheriff’s Office to conduct the investigation for the crash since they could be at fault,” the incident report said. “They” apparently referred to Arches personnel.
In a later conversation, the Arches ranger told the deputy that the gate was typically held in place only by its own weight.
“While speaking with the supervisor for Arches, […], I was informed the gate on the south side, which came loose, was not normally secured with any lock or retention item,” the report said. “I was told the gate was very heavy, and the weight of it held the gate in place in the past.”
The deputy reported that the iron arm adjacent to the one involved in the accident “was secured with a padlock,” but said later in the report that he did not find any items that might have secured the gate that killed Nakajjigo.
“I observed the gate arm and posts involved in the crash,” the report said. “I observed the square metal extension which the gate would normally rest on. I observed the metal extension had a hole through it which could have been used to secure the gate. I did not observe any items in the area that would have been used to secure the gate to the post.”
Surveillance footage from the Arches visitor’s center captured the crash itself, according to the deputy’s report, and showed that the bushes in the area had been “blowing hard from the wind” before the incident. The deputy described the scene as the sedan Nakajjigo was in, being driven by a Ludovic Patrice Xavier Michaud, approached the gate.
“I noted the sedan had been going the same speed as the other traffic in front of it,” the report reads. “As the sedan approached I observed a hard wind, and the gate begin to open. It appeared to be less than a second from when the gate opened to when the sedan collided with the gate arm. I observed the car immediately come to a stop, and the driver, a male, exit the driver side door in a hurry.”
The Times-Independent reached out to Arches National Park for comment on the findings. A spokesperson for the park said the park “does not have anything further to add at this time” beyond previous statements it has already provided about logistical details of the crash itself, and that the sheriff’s office was investigating the incident. Park officials also extended sympathies to the family members of the deceased.
Representatives for Nakajjigo’s family, not having previously seen the document from investigators, did not immediately provide comments about the findings.