Two teenage hikers who were missing for days in a California forest – prompting rescue crews to scour the grounds day and night – might be on the hook for $160,000 that investigators spent searching for them.
Orange County officials, who initially said the hikers would not be responsible, now say they are considering making Nicolas Cendoya, 19, and Kyndall Jack, 18, pay up because investigators found drugs in the car they were driving.
"They didn't go out there to hike, they went out there to get high. And they got disoriented."
- Orange County board supervisor Todd Spitzer
Police allege methamphetamine was found in the car the duo parked before heading out on an Easter Sunday hike last month in Cleveland National Forest. Cendoya was charged on Tuesday with a felony count of methamphetamine possession.
"The recent drug charge on Cendoya may change things," said Gail Krause, a spokeswoman with the Orange County Sheriff's Department.
Cendoya was found three days after he and Jack disappeared. She was found four days later. Both were dehydrated and delirious, and remembered little of their ordeal, including how they were separated. They also said they had hallucinations, with Jack saying she thought she was being attacked by animals.
"They didn't go out there to hike, they went out there to get high. And they got disoriented," Orange County board supervisor Todd Spitzer told the Los Angeles Times.
Spitzer said all options are being considered, including civil and criminal action. He hopes to have a recommendation to the board in the coming weeks.
Supervisor John Moorlach questioned why taxpayers should be penalized for what he characterized as reckless actions by the hikers.
"We certainly want to save them but, by golly, you were saved and you owe your society a debt of gratitude," he said, "and you need to pay the bill."
If convicted, Cendoya would face a sentencing range from probation to three years in jail.
Based on reporting by The Associated Press.