This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2005, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
ST. GEORGE - Authorities charged a St. George man with felony insurance fraud Monday after he allegedly deceived law enforcement into believing he was a missing hiker, prompting a nearly weeklong search in southwestern Utah by dozens of volunteers.
Bryan T. Butas later turned up in Australia.
As a result, Washington County Attorney Brock Belnap said Monday that his office will seek restitution - either as part of the criminal case or through civil action - for the $13,000 cost of the search.
According to court records, Butas, 35, had applied for a $250,000 life-insurance policy that named his estranged wife, their two sons and a stepdaughter as beneficiaries. Then, late last month, he supposedly disappeared from Washington County's Oak Grove Campground after telling friends he was going hiking.
Authorities, who tracked him to Australia through credit card transactions and a newly issued passport, said he had purchased a one-way ticket more than a week before he went hiking.
The court documents said Butas, who had been having marital problems, told investigators he was struggling unsuccessfully to care financially for his wife and children. He said he "got sick of it all," and that he applied for the the life-insurance policy because "one of the biggest things I wanted to do before I left was make it so that they could be OK."
His wife and children had moved back to Ohio last month. It is unclear whether the policy was denied before he left the country.
Butas told investigators that, on July 30, after telling friends he would be hiking, he parked a car near the Interstate 15 exit to the campground and rode a bicycle 20 miles back to St. George. He then drove a second vehicle to the campground, rode his bike down to the car he had left earlier and drove home.
The next day he took a Greyhound bus to Los Angeles.
On Aug. 1, a friend went to the campground and talked to some forest rangers who had found Butas' vehicle. The search was launched the next morning, using up to 100 volunteers, along with trained dogs and helicopters.
The search was called off Aug. 7 and, the next day, police traced Butas to Australia.
His mother, after hearing from her son Aug. 11, wired him money and he returned to the United States on Aug. 14. He was admitted into a Veterans Administration hospital in Brecksville, Ohio, for treatment of an undisclosed condition. On Aug. 15, his wife, Pamela Butas, filed for a protective order, telling authorities he had been verbally and emotionally abusive .
Last week, his mother, Cathy Butas, in a telephone interview, said the situation is a tough one for the family.
"Mentally, he is not very good, but he is alive," she said. "We want to help him get healed. I love my son and am trying to do what I can."
On Monday, Washington County Sheriff Kirk Smith said Butas, a former U.S. Marine who had lived in St. George three or four years, had "put some real thought" into planning his disappearance.
"He planted seeds that we followed and he did some stupid things," said Smith.
Returning Butas to Utah to face the second-degree felony charge is contingent on his health, the sheriff said.
"If he doesn't [return] on his own, then we have other options."