KANE COUNTY, Utah (ABC4) — The tragedy of two hikers found dead at Buckskin Gulch this past week is shocking communities in Florida.
The Kane County Sheriff’s Office has identified the two men as Dr. Jeffery Watson and William “Bill” Romaniello from Tampa Bay, Florida. They were part of a three-person group heading to Lees Ferry at the Colorado River last weekend through Buckskin Gulch, a slot canyon located right at the Utah-Arizona border.
Kane County deputies initiated a search and rescue mission on Monday, March 13, when they did not return from their hiking trip that was supposed to end on Sunday, March 12. Crews located one of them, later identified as Ed Smith, through an infrared camera and transported him to a local hospital. Romaniello’s body was found in the canyon near the Middle Route on Tuesday.
The body of the last hiker, Watson, was located near the Paria River in Arizona on Wednesday. The water at the canyon had reportedly risen to dangerous levels over the weekend and flooded the canyon.
The three men all worked at Orthopedic Medical Group of Tampa Bay. Representatives of the company released the following statement:
“Tragedy has hit the practice, and it is with profound sadness that we share the loss of Dr. Jeffrey Watson and William Romaniello, ATC, two pillars of the practice that leave an incredible legacy and monumental void in the hearts of everyone that knew them.”
Watson was an orthopedic surgeon who also graduated top of his class at the United States Air Force Academy. His stellar performance at the Air Force led him to be selected for a scholarship to attend medical school at Georgetown University. He was reportedly celebrated as the top teaching resident by the Journal of Orthopaedic Trauma at the university.
Romaniello was the director of business development and director of sports medicine at the O.M.G of Tampa Bay. After graduating from the University of Connecticut with a degree in sports science, he went on to work as a certified athletic trainer in Alabama. He built the sports medicine program at O.M.G of Tampa Bay and worked with more than 10 other trainers in treating patients at local sports events and clinics.
Aside from being an athletic trainer, Romaniello also volunteered as an EMT in Connecticut. The Brookfield Volunteer Fire Company released the following statement regarding his passing:
“Bill served as a dedicated EMT in Brookfield for over a decade before relocating to Florida. He was a compassionate and competent provider who greeted everyone with a giant smile.”
Families and friends declined to speak with ABC4 about the tragedy, but hundreds of people have shared messages online wishing the families well and highlighting just how important these two men were to their communities.
“Jeff was an amazing USAF doc – so very sad to hear; may his family be surrounded by love during this very difficult time,” a comment read.
Another message reads, “Bill was a great partner and a great person.”
A former colleague says that Romaniello was a great EMT and an even better athletic trainer.
“You’ll be terribly missed,” they said.
Representatives of the medical group say Watson and Romaniello were incredible men. Out of respect to the families’ wishes, the hospital will not be releasing any further statements.