SANTA ANA (CBS/AP) — A volunteer searcher who broke his back while looking for a teenage hiker who was lost in the Orange County wilderness wants restitution if the teen is convicted on drug charges.
Nineteen-year-old Nic Cendoya was in a Santa Ana courtroom Wednesday, charged with possession of methamphetamine. Investigators say they found the drugs in his car during last month’s search for Cendoya and his 18-year-old friend, Kyndall Jack.
Also in court was 20-year-old volunteer Nick Papageorge, who was nearly killed searching for the lost hikers in the woods of Trabuco Canyon.
While searching with other volunteers, Papageorge says he fell 110 feet and bounced off a rocky cliff twice, breaking his back.
Papageorge was airlifted to a local hospital where he underwent surgery for several back injuries, running up medical bills of at least $350,000.
The 20-year-old spoke to reporters Wednesday, thankful he’s alive but acknowledging the long recovery ahead.
“Those five vertebrae will be fused for the rest of my life. I start physical therapy this week and I’m very thankful to be here. It’s just a miracle that God spared me. I should have died in that fall for sure,” he said.
Cendoya was found three days later and Jack was found the following day. Both were dehydrated and delirious.
County Supervisor Todd Spitzer says the hikers were under the influence and he is seeking court-ordered restitution.
“Nick [Papageorge] IV was injured as a result of Nic Cendoya’s reckless use of drugs in the canyon,” he said.
Cendoya did not enter a plea. His arraignment was postponed Wednesday and he is due back in court in July.
If convicted of felony possession, Cendoya could get up to three years in prison.
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