Spitzer: Deny hiker treatment option

A rescued hiker who was arrested after methamphetamine was allegedly found in his car should not enter a program that allows first-time offenders to avoid jail, an Orange County supervisor said Wednesday.

County Supervisor Todd Spitzer argued in a news conference against Nicolas Cendoya, 19, of Costa Mesa, entering the rehabilitation program that could expunge his conviction because a volunteer rescue worker fell 110 feet and was injured trying to help him and another hiker.

"It's not unforeseeable that if you're lost and you are engaging in stupid conduct … people are going to come out and find you," Spitzer said.

Admission to the program would mean the charges could be dismissed, making it impossible for the volunteer and his family to get restitution to cover medical costs under the Victims' Bill of Rights Act, according to Deputy District Attorney Brock Zimmon.

Cendoya and hiking companion Kyndall Jack, 18, also of Costa Mesa, went missing for five days starting March 31 in Trabuco Canyon, in southern Orange County. Cendoya was slated to be arraigned Wednesday on a charge of methamphetamine posession but the proceeding was rescheduled to July 12.

Spitzer said he favors the civilian volunteer, Nicholas Papageorge's IV, 20, and his family having access to restitution under the Victims Bill of Rights Act, also known as Marsy's Law.

But he said a judge would have to find a connection between Cendoya's alleged drug possession and Papageorge's IV's injuries before making a decision about a Marsy's Law claim.

The Papageorge family incurred $350,000 worth of medical bills. Because the family is insured, they said they are not yet sure how much they will have to pay out of pocket.

"It's just a miracle God spared me," Papageorge's IV said.

His family held up photos of him after an operation that fused five of his lumbar vertebrae.

"He was injured gravely. … We're lucky to have him alive and not paralyzed," said his father, Nicholas Papageorge's III. "There's no logical reason for his spine not to be severed. My son's behavior, I think, was astounding, to go out there and help."

The younger Papageorge's said he would have still gone looking for Cendoya and Jack if he knew about the drug allegations at the time.

"People make stupid decisions. I've made stupid decisions," he said. "I hope it sets them on the straight and narrow."

Authorities allege Cendoya had about 490 milligrams of the drug in his car, which was parked at the base of the canyon where he and Jack had gone hiking Easter Sunday.

That evening he called 911 saying the pair were lost, but his cell phone's battery died before authorities could find their location. He spent four days in the wilderness before being rescued the night of April 3. Jack was rescued the next day.

After his rescue, Cendoya told reporters at a news conference that during the time he was lost he believed he was in the afterlife and being tracked by predators.

Jack said after being released from UC Irvine Medical Center that she thought she was being attacked by a python and tried to light the sky with her lighter.

Judge Gerald G. Johnston denied Spitzer's request to bar Cendoya from contacting Papageorge's family, saying he didn't think it was necessary.

"Can you conceive a circumstance right now where there'd be contact between these individuals?" Johnston asked, although he did encourage Cendoya to not contact the family.

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