Suspect in painter’s suit arrested after 911 caller reports man in HAZMAT suit in St. George backyard

File photo for illustrative purposes only of St. George Police Department at accident scene on 610 North, St. George, Utah, April 28, 2022 | Photo by Alysha Lundgren, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — What started with a welfare check near the hospital on Monday morphed into a van reportedly stolen from a construction site and a stranger in the backyard of a home wearing what appeared to be a HAZMAT suit.

2019 file photo for illustrative purposes only of officers at scene off Foremaster Drive, St. George, Utah, Jan. 15. 2019 | File photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

Officers were dispatched to the Foremaster Drive area to conduct a welfare check on an individual that had just left the hospital shortly after 1 p.m.

According to charging documents filed with the courts, officers began circulating the area when they were unable to locate the individual. Shortly thereafter, one of the officers located the man in one of the portable restrooms on East Ridgeline Circle.

According to the report, the individual told officers he was suffering from stomach problems, and when he opened the door, officers noted that he matched the description of the subject who had recently left the hospital, based on the blue hospital clothes he was still wearing.

When the man declined any assistance from the officers, they left and cleared the call since he did not appear to need help, was alert and oriented, nor had any crime been committed.

Two hours later, officers returned to East Ridgeline Circle after they were dispatched to a report of a vehicle theft.

While speaking to the reporting party and other witnesses, officers learned that a suspect covered in tattoos and wearing blue hospital clothes had entered a construction site where a crew was working inside one of the unfinished structures.

The suspect was identified as 39-year-old Robert John Benson, of Santa Clara, who was also identified as the same individual officers encountered in the portable restroom earlier that day.

When asked, Benson refused to answer any questions and he was transported to Purgatory Correctional Facility facing second-degree felony theft for the van, as well as a misdemeanor theft charge for the items inside.

Meanwhile, the witness told authorities the suspect had walked in with a pair of socks in his hands and then walked out of the building. Shortly after leaving, the witness noticed the same individual driving off in a van belonging to one of the workers.

“They then observed their van being driven by a white male in a blue shirt,” the officer noted, and while they were unable to clearly see the driver, the witnesses told officers they believed it was the same man they encountered earlier at the site.

The suspect was reportedly driving a 1998 Ford Econoline van with two ladders secured to the roof that was taken from the front of the unfinished building the construction crew was working on. The report also states that painter’s clothing, a white Adidas hat and a red cooler with a white lid were inside the van.

Shortly thereafter, the incident took a strange turn.

While officers were still at the scene of the construction site theft, another report came in involving a suspicious person on East 1400 South in St. George, where the 911 caller reported seeing a man in their backyard wearing what appeared to be a HAZMAT suit.

The reporting party also told emergency dispatch they spoke to the suspect, telling him they could not verify that he was supposed to be there, and the man responded by saying his vehicle had broken down a couple of streets away.

On the way to the call, officers located the stolen van less than a mile from where the 911 call originated, and when they arrived they found Benson wearing an Adidas hat and the white painter’s suit, which matched the property that was in the van when it was driven off the construction site. He also had the red cooler with the white lid with him.

Photos of the property were shown to the construction worker who confirmed they were the same items that were in the van when it was taken.

This report is based on statements from court records, police or other responders and may not contain the full scope of findings. Persons arrested or charged are presumed innocent until found guilty in a court of law or as otherwise decided by a trier-of-fact.

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2022, all rights reserved.

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