ALISO VIEJO, CA -- Orange County sheriff's officials announced Thursday the county is considering whether two hikers rescued from Trabuco Canyon last month should foot part of the more than $160,000 it cost to get them to safety.
Earlier, authorities said Nicholas Cendoya, 19, and Kyndall Jack, 18, would not be billed for the efforts to find them when they became lost in the canyon for several days.
However, sheriff's officials issued a statement today saying they were reconsidering when Orange County Supervisor Todd Spitzer raised the issue following news that Cendoya has been charged with possession of methamphetamine, which investigators say they found in the car the pair took to the canyon for hiking.
"If there's any opportunity to recover costs they're being evaluated to determine if they're viable," said sheriff's Capt. Adam Powell.
Orange County Board of Supervisors Chairman Shawn Nelson ridiculed the idea and said he was under the impression after talking to county counsel that it wouldn't even be legal.
Nelson told City News Service that he discussed the issue with County Counsel Nicholas S. Chrisos today.
"He and I talked. He's a lawyer, I'm a lawyer and I've been involved in hundreds of restitution hearings," Nelson said. "But restitution hearings are usually the result of a crime, not some tangential relationship."
Nelson wondered how authorities could prove the methamphetamine had anything to do with the two becoming lost.
"How much do you have to take to get high or lost?" Nelson said. "If you're dumb enough to have methamphetamine in the first place ... you're probably dumb enough to get lost on the trail anyway without it having to do with the methamphetamine."
Nelson said he has a libertarian view of government and "I'm as much of a hardass as anyone about giving away taxpayer money," but search and rescue teams usually respond to situations in which people were careless.
"How about when they call we ask them their budget for the search," Nelson said sarcastically.
Nelson said he was concerned about the "chilling effect" it would have on people calling for help.
Spitzer did not respond to several messages for comment, but he has told several media outlets that he was outraged that the rescue cost $160,377.81 in light of the drug possession allegation and that the two were unprepared for the hike.
Supervisor John Moorlach said Spitzer's suggestion deserves some consideration, but the decision ought to be left to Sheriff Sandra Hutchens and the Orange County Fire Authority, a separate agency that does not receive funding from the county.
"I'm content with that," Moorlach said of the sheriff exploring the question. "I think she'll give it her professional attention and come up with the right solution."
Cendoya and Jack should have been better prepared for the hike, Moorlach said.
"They impaired their judgement and made a decision to go up a trail without water, a first aid kit, a flashlight, and without training," Moorlach said.
"I would have taken two six packs of water, a first aid kit. I'd have mole skin. There's just a lot of things you do. You wear the right clothes, the right shoes and bring adequate water or figure out a good water source to get to.
"If you have a heart attack and the paramedics come out and the ambulance takes you in then you pay for that, so what's the difference."
Orange County Fire Authority Division Chief Kris Concepcion said his agency has no opinion on the issue.
"We gave our cost, but we don't have an opinion. We're not taking a position on that," Concepcion said.
The authority has sought compensation in cases of negligence in the past, but becoming lost in the mountains was not the same thing, Concepcion said. He cited as an example a plumber not using the right tools and sparking a fire as a result.
Cendoya and Jack were not tested for drugs after they were rescued, authorities said.
Cendoya was charged Tuesday with a felony count of possession of a controlled substance. He is due to appear in court for an arraignment May 22.
Investigators on April 2 found 497 milligrams of methamphetamine in Cendoya's car, about 0.017 ounce, said Farrah Emami of the Orange County District Attorney's Office.
Cendoya and Jack went missing on Easter Sunday night when they became lost while hiking. Cendoya was rescued late April 3, and Jack was found the next morning.
TELL US WHAT YOU THINK IN THE COMMENTS: Should lost hikers be charged for the expense of search and rescue efforts?
- City News Service