A former Utah state legislator and controversial Salt Lake County GOP chair has mysteriously vanished after going for a run.
Police are looking for any clues that will help them figure out what happened to Chad Edward Bennion, 52, who was last seen at 4 p.m. on December 31 when he went running in St. George, Utah.
“There’s nothing to indicate anything suspicious about the circumstances,” St George Police Captain Mike Giles told the St. George News. “Whether he ran into an issue on a trail, hurt himself, got stuck somewhere, we just don’t know.”
However, extensive searches from the air and on the ground have yet to turn up any sign of Bennion or his vehicle.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Bennion Disappeared While Running
Police said Bennion was driving a black 2002 Oldsmobile Bravada when he disappeared. “He was last seen in the area of Valley View Dr. wearing black running pants and a white t-shirt,” the police wrote on Twitter. “He was also in possession of his vehicle.”
The police missing poster added, “Chad is an avid runner and enjoys trail running on remote trails in the Southern Utah area.” People with information were urged to contact the St. George Police Department at 435-627-4300.
Bennion was visiting family when he decided to go for the New Year’s Eve run, reported The St. George News.
2. Bennion’s Cell Phone Pinged Off a Tower
The only clue police have announced thus far is a ping from Bennion’s cell phone. Fox 13 Salt Lake City reported that a police lieutenant said: “When we tried to ping his cell phone it hit a tower on North Bluff. But they couldn’t pinpoint it any more accurate than that. It could be within 3, 4, 5 or 10 miles, we don’t know.”
Although the television station said it’s believed Bennion would park his vehicle when he went running, the vehicle hasn’t been found either. Compounding the mystery, helicopters tried to search for the vehicle but didn’t see it.
Bennion’s sister wrote on Facebook: “My brother Chad Bennion left to go running at 4:00 pm New Years Eve in Saint George and has not been seen since. Please keep a look out for his vehicle a black 2002 Oldsmobile Bravado. He did not specifically say what trail he was running, any help would be appreciated.” She also wrote that the family had been searching extensively for him, saying, “Trails we have searched snow canyon Santa Clara ivins gun lock green valley red rock chucawala hell hole apex mine you name it.”
Bennion didn’t post much publicly on Facebook, although he updated his cover photo December 17 and made a recent comment about running. He also posted photos of Star Wars characters, including Darth Vader.
3. Bennion Resigned as GOP Chair After Domestic Violence Allegations
Bennion quit as Salt Lake County GOP chair amidst a series of domestic violence charges in 2014, reported the Salt Lake Tribune.
The charges were filed right before Bennion’s divorce from his third wife was finalized, the newspaper reported. Bennion’s then wife, Suzette, also was dealing with charges of her own, the newspaper reported, and Bennion faced protective orders in both of his prior marriages.
Suzette Bennion was found guilty of a misdemeanor after being accused of “slapping their 10-year-old child across the face and leaving a bruise,” the newspaper reported.
4. Bennion Generated Controversy Over Remarks He Made About the District Attorney
A Change.org petition claimed that Bennion made racist remarks about the Indian heritage of District Attorney Sam Gill.
According to Fox 13, in 2013, Bennion had “referred to remarks Gill made in which he described witnessing police brutality as a child in India. He said Gill was anti-cop because of the experience.”
A controversy ignited after Bennion used the term “cop hater” to refer to the DA, the television station said, and the Utah State Republican Party chair told the news media Bennion regretted the remark. The DA had upset Bennion when he found that police were not justified in shooting 21-year-old Danielle Willard, who had allegedly backed her vehicle into a detective before other officers fired.
The Salt Lake Tribune said that Gill’s office had just finished prosecuting Suzette Bennion at that time.
5. Bennion Was Attending Law School When He Disappeared & Was a Former Legislator
According to the St. George News, “Bennion has recently been attending law school in Los Angeles.”
The newspaper quoted Washington County commissioner-elect Dean Cox as saying, “He is going to school at the Western State College of Law. He’s just a super-nice kid. I can’t say nothing but good things about him.”
When Bennion was elected GOP county chair, he said he wanted to help the GOP improve its use of technology.
Project Vote Smart lists these past positions for Bennion, “Coach, Murray High School, Cross Country & Track; Council Aide, Salt Lake County Council; Economic Development Coordinator, Murray City/Murray Power; General Manager, AdvenTours, Incorporated; Marketing Director/Operating Manager.”
The site said he had four children, served on many area councils and committees, and held these political positions: “Joint Commerce & Revenue Appropriation Subcommittee; Representative, Utah State House of Representative; Vice Chair, National Conference of State Legislatures Energy & Electric Utilities Committee; Alternate Delegate, Republican National Convention; Candidate, Utah State House of Representatives; Mayoral Candidate, Murry; Oregon House Aide, Representative Marie Bell.”