Orange County won't bill missing hikers for $160,000 search

Orange County won't bill missing hikers for $160,000 search
Search efforts in Trabuco Canyon during the rescue operation for hikers Nicolas Cendoya, 19, and Kyndall Jack, 18. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

Orange County will not seek repayment of the $160,000 spent rescuing two Costa Mesa hikers who went missing Easter weekend in Trabuco Canyon, officials said Wednesday.

Supervisor Shawn Nelson said the county does not have the legal authority to seek reimbursement.


"We don't have a basis to go after them today — we didn't a month ago," he said.

Rescue workers from Orange, Los Angeles and Riverside counties spent five days searching for Nicolas Cendoya, 19, and Kyndall Jack, 18. The pair went missing March 31 in Trabuco Canyon.

Some supervisors and residents suggested that the pair be billed after authorities arrested Cendoya, saying they found methamphetamine while searching his car, which was parked near the trail. He faces one felony count of possession of a controlled substance.

Supervisor Todd Spitzer said he filed a request for restitution and Marcy's Law rights in the criminal case against Cendoya, but will reassess whether to pursue those options at Cendoya's arraignment May 22.

Although some states have laws that allow authorities to charge those rescued if they are found to have acted recklessly, California does not, Nelson said.

The state at one point had a law on the books to that effect for a period of five years, but that law has since expired, officials said.

"You can call 911, they will come rescue you, and for the most part there isn't a civil or criminal penalty you will pay," Nelson said.

Spitzer said he plans to propose legislation that would allow officials to recover rescue costs.

Nelson said crafting such a law may prove tricky.

"You don't want people that are stranded waiting until the last minute to call when they could be in extreme distress because the word is, 'Hey, don't call (911) until the last resort because you're getting a bill,' " Nelson said.

Nelson said the debate over whether Cendoya and Jack would foot the bill for their rescue was a non-issue.

"It isn't news that the law for the last 250 years remains the same," Nelson said.



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