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Orange County Fire Authority Wants Rescued Teen Hikers To Pay Up

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(credit: CBS)

(credit: CBS)

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SANTA ANA (CBSLA.com) — The Orange County Fire Authority has decided that two teens rescued from the mountains of Trabuco Canyon are liable for costs to bring them to safety.

The rescue cost the agency an estimated $55,000 in manpower and overtime.

Authorities said the teens got lost because they admitted to taking hallucinogenic drugs before they got hopelessly lost and stranded for several days.

Attorneys for the OCFA filed a legal brief Wednesday arguing that under a victim’s rights law the agency is entitled to recover costs.

The case was filed against 19-year-old Nic Cendoya and 18-year-old friend Kyndall Jack. He is charged with possessing 497 milligrams of methamphetamine, found in the car that he drove up to the mountain before getting lost Easter Sunday night.

“We’re asking for restitution of the $55,000 we incurred in rescuing Nic Cendoya,” said OCFA Division Chief Kris Concepcion. “The reason we feel we’re entitled to it is we’re arguing OCFA is a victim under Marsy’s Law.”

The agency’s attorneys argue in the brief that the two admitted to ingesting hallucinatory drugs before and during the hike and that they experienced hallucinations while they were lost, Concepcion said.

“People have got to be careful. It is not a victimless crime as some people might think, because it caused a great deal of not just cost, but as you know, it resulted in injuries to a couple of people while they were out looking for Nic Cendoya,” Concepcion said. “If it weren’t for his criminal activity we wouldn’t be doing that.”

Nick Papageorge’s, a 20-year-old volunteer who helped in the search, is also using Marsy’s Law to seek financial compensation. Injured during the search, back surgery and a weeklong hospital stay cost about $350,000.

Papageorge says he had titanium screws put in his back after he fell about 110 feet off a cliff .

Cendoya is due to be arraigned July 12, when it is also expected the judge in the case will consider the Marsy’s Law claims.

At issue is whether Cendoya is legally required to pay restitution to either the fire authority or Papageorge.

Cendoya is eligible for a drug diversion program, and if he completes the program successfully, it would prevent Papageorge from seeking compensation, according to Deputy District Attorney Brock Zimmon.

Orange County officials estimate it cost more than $160,000 to rescue Cendoya and Jack. They cannot seek compensation because the law that would have allowed them to sue expired in 1999.

Orange County supervisors have approved a draft of a bill they want Assemblyman Don Wagner, R-Tustin, to sponsor that would again allow county officials to seek compensation for similar incidents.

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