A judge this morning rejected the Orange County Fire Authority's plea for $55,000 in restitution from a rescued hiker who later today pleaded guilty to having methamphetamine in his car while he and a friend were being sought in Trabuco Canyon.
Orange County Superior Court Judge Gerald Johnston ruled there is no legal basis to force 19-year-old Nicolas Cendoya to pay for the costs of April's search.
Johnston also rejected a similar claim from Nick Papageorge's, a 20-year-old volunteer who fell about 110 feet from a cliff during the search and later had titanium screws put in his back. His family has said surgery and a week-long hospital stay cost about $350,000.
The judge reasoned that Cendoya had only been charged with possession of 497 milligrams of methamphetamine; the Costa Mesa teen was not accused to being under the influence of the drug when he and 18-year-old Kyndall Jack got lost in the canyon.
Cendoya, who had no priors, later pleaded guilty to possession and was allowed to enter a drug-treatment program that, if successfully completed, will wipe the conviction from his record.
The Orange County Fire Authority and Papageorge's filed court papers last month seeking restitution under Marsy's Law, the California victims rights legislation championed by Orange County Supervisor Todd Spitzer. Moments after Jack, the second of the disoriented and dehydrated hikers, was rescued, Spitzer publicly criticized the teens for wandering unprepared into the canyon, which is within his supervisorial district.
OC Fire Authority Seeks $55k as “Victim” of “Crime” by Rescued Teen Hiker Nic Cendoya
Cendoya said after his rescue (but before his arrest) he wanted to become a firefighter.