A search and rescue volunteer who broke his back looking for two meth-addled teenagers in Trabuco Canyon in April says he plans to sue Nicholas Cendoya if the 19-year-old is found guilty of drug possession. Nick Papageorge, 20, was hunting for the missing teenagers in Cleveland National Forest when he fell over 100 feet down a cliff face and broke his back.
Doctors had to implant two titanium rods and 11 screws to repair Papageorge’s spine, resulting in some $350,000 dollars in medical bills. He now believes he is entitled to some form of restitution.
Cendoya is scheduled to appear in court on July 12 to face charges over the significant quantity of methamphetamine that authorities found in his car during the search. Papageorge says he was aware that Cendoya and his companion Kyndall Jack might have been using drugs before getting lost, but joined in the search anyway.
If found guilty, Cendoya will still be eligible for a drug diversion program, which, if completed, will keep a drug conviction off his record. According to Deputy District Attorney Brock Zimmon, this would prevent Papageorge from seeking compensation for his injuries.
Under the current law, Orange County officials cannot seek restitution for the $160,000 they spent searching for Cendoya and Jack. However, Assemblyman Don Wagner, R-Tustin, has signed on to carry a bill which will permit municipalities to seek compensation from people who endanger themselves through illegal or reckless acts.
“Taxpayer-funded searches and rescues are intended for accidents, not for 'on purposes' that are a result of negligence or criminal activity," said 3rd District Supervisor Todd Spitzer in a statement. "Individuals who recklessly put themselves and others in danger should pay the cost for such rescues. Innocent taxpayers should not bear the burden of these exorbitant costs."