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O.C. seeks right to bill for rescues of people deemed reckless

The county's action is in response to the costly search for two hikers lost in the wilderness last month, one of whom was later charged with drug possession.

May 21, 2013|By Rick Rojas, Los Angeles Times
  • A Los Angeles County sheriff's helicopter assists in the search for two teen hikers in Holy Jim Canyon last month.
A Los Angeles County sheriff's helicopter assists in the search for… (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles…)

After spending $160,000 to rescue two hikers lost in a canyon — one of whom was later charged with drug possession — Orange County officials voted Tuesday to endorse a legislative proposal that would allow cities and counties to try to recover the costs of such operations.

The proposal, approved unanimously by Orange County supervisors, seeks to enable cities and counties to charge for an "extraordinary" search and rescue in cases in which the person was older than 16 and demonstrated "wanton or reckless conduct."

"I don't think that's what taxpayers should have to pay for," county Supervisor Todd Spitzer said.

The proposal stipulates that a person must break the law, have demonstrated reckless conduct and has the ability to pay, he said.

Assemblyman Donald P. Wagner (R-Irvine) has agreed to introduce the legislation in Sacramento. "Communities should not be required to forfeit their emergency services funds due to one individual's thoughtless actions," Wagner said in a statement.

The proposal follows the search for two hikers from Costa Mesa who went missing Easter Sunday in the Trabuco Canyon area. After four days, both were found not far from their car, disoriented and dehydrated. A volunteer deputy suffered severe head and back injuries when he plunged about 60 feet down a hillside during the rescue of Kyndall Jack, 18.

Her companion, Nicolas Cendoya, 19, was later charged with a felony count of methamphetamine possession after authorities found a small amount of the drug in the car.

Some have questioned whether those needing help would avoid calling for assistance if they didn't want to pay, or if law enforcement would be discouraged from providing assistance if they knew someone couldn't.

But Spitzer said law enforcement wouldn't change how they operate, and he sees this as an option to be used in rare circumstances. People who "recklessly put themselves and others in danger should pay the cost for such rescues," he said.

rick.rojas@latimes.com

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