O.C. fire officials seek to recover $55,000 from rescued hiker
Orange County fire officials said they are attempting to recoup the $55,000 it cost the department to recover two hikers who went missing for several days earlier this year in Orange County’s back country.
The Orange County Fire Authority said it was seeking restitution by filing a motion Wednesday in the criminal case of Nicolas Cendoya, one of the hikers, who now faces a felony count of possession of a controlled substance.
“We feel we qualify as a victim” of Cendoya’s alleged crime, said Kris Concepcion, a division chief for the fire authority. “We are entitled to restitution as a result.”
Cendoya, 19, and Kyndall Jack, 18, both of Costa Mesa, went missing in the rough Trabuco Canyon area of south Orange County on Easter Sunday, triggering a massive search that involved multiple agencies and dozens of volunteers who went out looking on their own.
Cendoya was charged after investigators said they found methamphetamine in his parked car as they searched for clues in the pair’s disappearance.
His arrest prompted a discussion among county officials about whether to try to charge the two for the taxpayer cost of the search, which added up to $160,000 in all. County supervisors voted last month to support a legislative proposal that would allow cities and counties to recover costs from search-and-rescue operations in which a person demonstrated “wanton or reckless conduct.”
Concepcion said there have been instances in which the department has sought restitution, such as cases of arson or negligent fires, but never for a search-and-rescue operation.
He said their portion of the total, $55,000, includes the cost of the command staff and helicopter services, and doesn’t include the costs of other agencies.
Cendoya’s attorney, Paul S. Meyer, declined to comment on the motion. The Orange County district attorney’s office did not immediately return calls for comment.