Hiker Nicolas Cendoya will not have to pay for search efforts


Nicolas Cendoya appeared in a Santa Ana courtroom Friday to plead guilty to a charge of possession of methamphetamine. Under a plea deal, he will enter a drug-treatment program with a chance of getting the conviction cleared from his record.

Last March, Cendoya and his friend Kyndall Jack got lost while hiking in the Cleveland National Forest, sparking an extensive search that cost thousands of dollars. The teens admitted to being under the influence of drugs when they became disoriented and lost their way in the California wilderness.

"We helped only because they called us and asked for the help. The only reason they called us was because they were disoriented from the effects of the drugs, which they would not have taken if they didn't possess them," OCFA's attorney, Robert Kaufman, told the judge.

The Orange County Fire Authority filed court papers last month, asking that Cendoya pay $55,000 in restitution to cover part of the agency's costs during the search. A volunteer who was seriously hurt during the search, Nick Papageorge's IV, also wanted to recover thousands of dollars in medical bills.

But Orange County Superior Court Judge Gerald Johnston ruled that neither the OCFA nor the volunteer searcher qualified as victims, saying there was no legal basis to force Cendoya to pay for the search costs.

Johnston agreed with the district attorney that by definition of the law, the OCFA and Papageorge's were not direct victims of harm by Cendoya.

OCFA officials say they plan to continue to fight for restitution.

"We respectfully disagree with the ruling, and what we're going to do is go back to the board, OCFA board, and find out what our options are," said Kris Concepcion of the OCFA.

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