SALT LAKE CITY – A man accused of faking his disappearance, setting off a search in the area where he had supposedly gone hiking, has been charged with insurance fraud.
The felony charge was filed Monday against Bryan Butas (search), 35, of St. George. A second-degree felony is punishable by a maximum sentence of one to 15 years in prison.
Butas had applied for a $250,000 life-insurance policy that named his estranged wife, their two sons and a stepdaughter as beneficiaries, authorities said.
According to an affidavit, Butas told a Washington County sheriff's sergeant that he had been under a great deal of stress and "wanted to disappear and never be found."
Authorities said Butas told friends July 30 he was going hiking in the Oak Grove area of Washington County, in southwestern Utah. He didn't return to work two days later, setting off a 10-day search by authorities and dozens of volunteers, until sheriff's investigators traced him to Australia.
Butas has since checked himself into a Veterans Affairs hospital at Ohio and plans were under way for him to return to Utah, Sheriff's Sgt. Jake Adams said.
According to Adams, Butas said he left his car at Oak Grove, rode a bicycle to another location where he had parked a different vehicle, and eventually caught a bus to Los Angeles, picked up a passport and boarded a flight to Australia (search).
Butas hoped "everyone would presume he was dead and his children could claim the life insurance policy," Adams said.
Butas' mother, Cathy Butas, told The Salt Lake Tribune last week that the situation was a difficult for the family. "Mentally, he is not very good, but he is alive," she said from Brunswick, Ohio.