Orange County

Volunteer who broke spine in search for O.C. hikers reaches settlement

Missing hikers
Volunteers prepare to search for missing Costa Mesa hiker Kyndall Jack in 2013. A man who broke his spine searching for her and Nicolas Cendoya in the Cleveland National Forest has received $100,000 as part of a legal settlement.
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

A volunteer who broke his spine during a search for two lost Costa Mesa hikers in 2013 will receive $100,000 as part of a legal settlement reached this month, a lawyer involved in the case said Friday.

Nick Papageorge fell more than 100 feet while searching for Kyndall Jack and Nicolas Cendoya after they disappeared near Trabuco Canyon in the Cleveland National Forest. Authorities found the two hikers hallucinating and dehydrated days after they vanished.

Papageorge sued Jack last year, alleging she negligently put rescuers in danger when she headed into the wilderness unprepared and intending to take hallucinogenic drugs.

During the search, officials found methamphetamine in Cendoya’s car, but Jack has maintained she wasn’t on drugs during the hike.


“I’m not saying she was an angel, but she said she wasn’t doing drugs out there,” said attorney Don Gilbert, who represented Jack in the civil case.

The $100,000 payout will come from a homeowner’s insurance policy held by Jack’s mother, Gilbert said.

Papageorge sued last year with the hope of recouping some money for medical bills that had reached more than $500,000, his attorney, Eric Dubin, said last year.

Dubin could not be reached for comment Friday.


Despite the settlement, Jack and her lawyer maintain she wasn’t liable for the injury.

Papageorge knew the risks of searching for Jack and still volunteered to help, Gilbert argued in court documents.

But after weighing factors, including the possible feelings of a jury, Jack and her lawyer decided to settle.

“Frankly, he’s just the more sympathetic of the two figures in the case,” Gilbert said of Papageorge, who was 20 at the time of his injury and aspiring to become a professional emergency responder.

Jack, who was 18 at the time, described becoming lost and hallucinating after wandering off the trail with Cendoya, who was 19.

She told the media that she remembered fighting off animals and trying to “light the sky” with a lighter to signal for help. The pair said they tried to call authorities on a cellphone before its battery died.

Rescuers found Cendoya three days later, and the next day they discovered Jack clinging to a canyon wall.

Cendoya pleaded guilty to a drug possession charge related to the meth found in his car and was sentenced to a rehab program.


He was not named in Papageorge’s lawsuit, but according to Gilbert, Cendoya previously had settled the matter for an undisclosed amount of money.

Gilbert said Jack will be happy to put the case behind her.

“It’s had a very negative effect on her life, as you might have guessed already,” he said.

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