San Juan County Sheriff’s deputies and the National Park Service (NPS) recovered a body they believe to be that of Casey Menuey, 33, of Moab, on Saturday morning, June 14 from the Colorado River near the mouth of Monument Basin, river mile marker 15, San Juan County Sheriff Rick Eldredge said.
Menuey went missing on Friday, June 6 after being separated from his rafting party at Lathrop Canyon, about seven miles upriver from where the body was found. Menuey was not wearing a life-preserver at the time he disappeared and alcohol is also believed to have played a role.
“It is our understanding he had consumed about eight to 10 beers in a relatively short time,” Eldredge said. “We believe it to be a contributing factor.”
The trip was planned as a 100-mile, two-night, three-day trip from the Potash boat-launch to Halls Crossing take-out, said Jake Olsen. Olsen owns Olsen Welding in Powell, Wyo., and was Menuey’s employer and lifelong friend. It was their first river trip together. Olsen Welding does work both in Moab and in Wyoming and for the past three years Olsen Welding had been working locally for Fidelity Exploration.
The group of seven stopped at Lathrop Canyon to explore the ruins of a Native American granary when Menuey became separated from the group.
“He disappeared around dusk,” Olsen said. “The next day we found his footprints going for more than a mile along the edge of the river. He was clearly running at times. We spent the entire day looking for him downstream of where his footprints ended. We thought maybe he’d have gone into the river or tried to swim, and we thought we would just find him alive on the river, a ways downstream.”
Trip-leader David Pitzer, a former river guide with 12 years of experience and more than 300 river trips under his belt, also works for Olsen Welding and was supervised by Menuey at work. He said the incident at Lathrop Canyon occurred just three hours into the trip.
“I heard Casey hollering at one point in the area of the ruins, but we couldn’t find him,” Pitzer said.
Pitzer said there were fresh mountain lion tracks in the vicinity and said he thinks Menuey may have seen a lion and ran.
Pitzer said Menuey’s footprints went through some dense tamarisk brush and then into the river.
“Why else would you sprint and then go through that type of dense brush?” Pitzer asked.
Eldredge was dismissive of the lion-attack theory.
“We see lion tracks up and down the banks of the river all the time,” he said. “It’s their habitat – and they are much more scared of humans. And there are no other signs of attack or trauma.”
Eldredge said he believes the most likely explanation is that Menuey got separated from the group and ran down-river thinking that they had started downstream without him, and he may have seen another boat thinking it was his group.
Eldredge speculates that Menuey likely tried to swim across the river to an embankment that was free from tamarisk brush, so that he could more easily be seen on shore by passing boats.
Another factor that would challenge any swimmer, Eldredge said, was the 59 degree water temperature. “It’s still unseasonably cold for this late in the season,” he said.
Olsen said he’s not sure what happened to his friend.
“I think maybe he got confused and lost,” Olsen said. “Honestly, it’s a mystery.”
Pitzer said the group camped out in the area that evening hoping Menuey would see the light from their fire. The next morning, the group alerted a passing guide from Tex’s Riverways, who in turn alerted the NPS of the disappearance.
For several days after Menuey went missing, the San Juan County Sheriff’s Office and the Department of Public Safety flew the area extensively to search both land and water, and the NPS and State Parks conducted daily patrols on the river, as well.
“They were amazing,” Olsen said of the agencies that searched for Menuey. “They did everything they could; they never gave up … They used boats, helicopters, dogs – even infrared stuff.”
Olsen said Menuey was having a blast the first day of the trip, even though they had gotten off to a late start because one of the two motorized rafts they were using was having engine trouble. He described Menuey as “just the most loyal friend and worker.”
“(You) couldn’t pick a nicer guy to be around,” Olsen said.
Pitzer said Menuey was a workplace leader who “kept the ball rolling.” He leaves behind a wife Gabriel, one child and three step-children.
The body was sent to the Utah Medical Examiner’s Office in Salt Lake City for examination and identification.
“There is currently no evidence of foul play and results of further testing should take about a week,” Eldredge said.
Menuey’s fellow rafters say they are distraught over the incident.
“There are some feelings of guilt,” Pitzer said. “Like, ‘could I have done more to look out for the guy?'”
Menuey’s day-to-day supervisor in Moab, Lloyd Guillory, of Fidelity Exploration, had high-praise for his work ethic.
“In three years I never saw the guy angry,” Guillory said. “People call me a workaholic, but Casey would outwork me. He’d be at it for 16 hours and then be ready to go again at 7a.m. … without Casey, there would be no Olsen Welding.”
Guillory said that even though Menuey was new to Moab, he cared a lot about the area and pushed to hire local workers.
“He tried to support the local community,” Guillory said. “His passing is just a great loss – and he will be missed.”
Olsen said services for Menuey will take place in their hometown of Powell, Wyo.
Body believed to be that of missing Moab man; Fellow-rafters and co-workers share story
“He was just the most loyal friend and worker.”