updated June 3,2011 at 6:30 a.m. MST
ST. GEORGE – The suspect in a local robbery took his own life yesterday evening rather than face a jail sentence in Utah.
Sarkis George Abechian, 41, is accused of having robbed a local woman at knifepoint at the U.S. Bank ATM on April 21, in St. George. Abechian was scheduled to arrive in St. George today to speak with his attorney about the charges, according to his brother-in-law Ben Maddux.
Maddux, a Temple Officiator with the Church of Jesus Church of Latter-day Saints, said that after church services yesterday afternoon, Abechian told his family that he was going to visit his mother in a nearby city in California where they live. Instead, Abechian stopped on Junction 71 in California and jumped.
Officer John Harris with the California Highway Patrol confirmed that officers were called to northbound State Route 71 and westbound State Route 60 and began shutting down the roads. As an officer approached Abechian, he jumped “without warning,” Harris said in a press release. Abechian fell 150 feet onto Route 60.
According to Maddux, Abechian jumped because he didn’t want to go back to jail, although going to jail was the very reason he committed the crime in the first place, he said.
Maddux said that although Abechian is from Lebanon, he has been a U.S. citizen for over 20 years and speaks English perfectly. He came from a very abusive childhood, Maddux said. After moving to the United States, Abechian’s siblings joined the LDS church and moved to California.
Maddux said that Abechian’s bipolar disorder and poor choices in life made it harder for Abechian to adapt. A mechanic by trade, Abechian tried to start his own company in California, but was unable to make it work. A few years ago, he chose to have an affair and lost his wife and son.
“He got to a point where he was really down,” Maddux said. “We tried to include him as much as we could. He started really feeing the gospel. He had a drive and a desire.”
A month ago, Maddux and his wife began discussing moving to St. George. They decided to visit the area and look for houses, and brought Abechian with them.
“We wanted to go to someplace better,” Maddux said. “We took him with us to visit. We told him we’d help him start a business. He loved St. George, but he convinced himself that we were going to leave him in California.”
Maddux said they returned to California after looking for homes in St. George for four days.
“Before my wife and I woke up in the morning, he was gone,” Maddux said.
Maddux said that was not typical behavior of his brother-in-law to just disappear.
“He took a knife out of our kitchen. His psychological issues really took a turn for the worse,” Maddux said. “(He felt like) ‘Nobody loves me. Nobody wants me. I’ll be out of my family’s hair. I’ll just go to jail.’”
Maddux said that Abechain felt that if he committed a crime in Southern Utah, it would be like the TV show “Mayberry.”
“He had that weird conception,” Maddux said. “He felt like ‘I’ll be taken care of. [I’ll have] shelter, food, and no one has to think about me anymore.’ He had no intention of hurting anybody. He had $500 in his pocket. He didn’t need the money.”
Maddux said Abechian felt that because aggravated robbery “in California is not that big of a deal,” that the police would arrest him calmly and he would just put himself in jail “like the drunk in Mayberry who just opens the cell and goes to sleep.”
“The police [in St. George] who don’t deal with serious crime as often, they’re ready to hang you in Town Square,” he said.
Maddux said he and his wife drove to St. George and posted bail when they found out what happened, “With my wife screaming at him the whole way home.”
Det. Nate Abbott with the Washington County Sheriff’s Office said Abechian posted bail with bond on April 24.
Officer Johnny Heppler with the St. George Police Department said officers did not have to chase Abechian the day of the robbery. “He gave himself up,” Heppler said. However, every crime in St. George is taken seriously, he added.
“There is a reason why we are not dealing with significant crime and some of the other areas are, and that is because we treat every crime seriously,” he said. “If we didn’t focus strong efforts on an aggravated robbery, and show those that would commit those crimes that they will be held accountable, then what would make them think twice about committing a more serious crime? If these crimes weren’t taken seriously, then the crimes would escalate and we would have more of these types of crimes. That’s why Southern Utah is such a great place to live because those crimes are not normal here. We certainly took officer safety into consideration. We had reason to believe he was armed with a knife but he was taken into custody without any use of force.”
Maddux said that once home, he and his wife tried harder to work with Abechian and keep his spirits up. They hired an attorney in St. George to act as his defense attorney. The attorney, Gary Pendleton, told St. George News today that he had heard from Maddux this morning that Abechian committed suicide, but that he could not confirm it until he received an official death certificate. Maddux said he would also be getting an official death certificate tomorrow. Washington County prosecuting attorneys said today that they had not heard of the death.
Maddux said he noticed yesterday that Abechian was visibly upset.
“It finally hit him that he might actually have to go back to the place that he hates,” Maddux said of the Washington County jail known as Purgatory.
“We were in church and he just looked sad,” Maddux said. “All of us were trying to talk to him. The Bishop tried to talk to him. The Missionaries came over to our house right after (church). He was just sad. He admitted to my wife that he was very sad about having to go to St. George.”
Maddux said he did not expect Abechian to commit suicide as the answer.
“We know it’s his own fault,” Maddux said. “We do feel bad, not just for what he did (referring to the robbery), but because of the situation of how he died. His soul and where … it’s a hard way to have a family member die,” he said with a long pause.
“Inside he had a good heart,” Maddux added. “I don’t easily forgive things like this (referring to the robbery). I told him straight to his face, ‘No one did this to you. You made this decision. You had a five-hour drive to think this through.’”
Maddux said that after the robbery, he sent an email to St. George Mayor Dan McArthur to apologize on behalf of his brother-in-law.
“He (the Mayor) said, ‘We still welcome you into our town. We can’t condone actions like that.’ I don’t condone that either,” Maddux said.
St. George News received a copy of the death certificate.
Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2011, all rights reserved.