ST. GEORGE – A search for former Utah legislator Chad Bennion, who had been reported missing New Year’s Eve, came to an end late Monday morning after he showed up safe and sound.
Bennion, 52, rang in the New Year in a remote part of Washington County due to getting his vehicle, a 2002 Oldsmobile Bravada SUV, stuck in the mud in a slot canyon, St. George Police Sgt. David Williams said.
The former legislator was reported missing Saturday afternoon when he didn’t return home after a run. This sparked an extensive search that involved multiple agencies and private individuals over the two nights he was missing.
“He went out running in a remote area on the west end of the county,” Williams said. “After he was done with his run it began to get dark and he began driving back and got lost on a side road. At the end of that side road, it ended in a box canyon (and) got stuck in the mud and the sand.”
The place Bennion ended up is a spot called Slaughter Creek that is in the Motoqua area, Williams said.
As he had food and water and camping equipment in his SUV and was stuck for the time being, Bennion decided to spend the first night in the boonies.
“Chad’s well-trained in taking care of himself and how to be safe,” said Julie Dole, chief deputy recorder for Salt Lake County and friend of Bennion “He’s prepared. He knows what to do.”
For Bennion to go out on his own for a run isn’t out of character for him, Dole said. He’s also good about letting people know where he is going, she said.
Bennion had attempted to let family know where he was over his mobile phone Saturday, but he ultimately ended up out of range in what Williams referred to as “a perfect storm” of circumstance.
On Sunday Bennion heard on the SUV’s radio that he had been reported missing. Learning there was a search out for him, he decided to stay with his vehicle.
“(It) was a very smart move,” Williams said. “That’s the easiest way for us to spot (a lost person).”
Aerial searches were underway by that time. Intermountain Healthcare’s Life Flight helicopter was used in the search for a time.
After spending another night in Slaughter Creek, Bennion told police, he planned to try and get his SUV out again or simply run back to civilization, Williams said, adding that Bennion is a very accomplished runner.
Sometime during the morning, a cougar hunter passing through the area came upon Bennion and helped pull his SUV out of the muck. After that he was able to drive out and contact family and friends once his phone was in range again.
Dole said she received a text from Bennion midmorning Monday in reply to a text she had sent Sunday. She was “thrilled and relieved” to learn he was safe.
“I was really worried,” she said.
While heading back into town, Bennion was pulled over by Santa Clara-Ivins Police who made contact with him around 10:40 a.m. and then sent him on his way, St. George Police Officer Lona Trombley said.
St. George Police also issued a press release confirming Bennion was safe and at home in a press release around 11:30 a.m.
“He’s in good health, and he’s safe at home with his family,” Williams said, adding that Bennion’s showing up safe is the best outcome the search could have had.
Bennion served in the Utah Legislature from 1999 through 2005. He also served as the chair of the Salt Lake County Republican Party for a short while.
Of the search for Bennion, Williams said it was a large effort and thanked all those involved.
“We’re very grateful for all the help we received from a lot of agencies, from up north, federal agencies. The FBI had contacted us to help us out,” he said. “It was great to see a great big community come together and employ a lot of these resources.”
Agencies that took part in the search included Washington County Sheriff’s Search and Rescue, Red Rock Search and Rescue, the St. George Police Department, Bureau of Land Management along with other agencies. Volunteers from northern Utah, as well as some state legislators, also participated in the search.
As of Monday morning the Civil Air Patrol had been put on standby and a Utah Highway Patrol helicopter was flying in to participate in the search, though it was subsequently canceled when Bennion showed up safe, Washington County Sheriff’s Deputy Darrell Cashin said.
“This is possibly the best ending we could have,” Williams said.
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