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Off The Hook: 'Meth Hikers' Won't Have To Pay For Rescue

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The two hikers who racked up a $160,000 rescue tab won't be forced to repay that huge bill after all. Why not? Because, like the hikers' stash, it's illegal.

The LA Times reports that Orange County is dropping its plan to make the two Costa Mesa hikers pay for the privilege of being rescued after getting lost in Trabuco Canyon.

Supervisor Shawn Nelson said the county does not have the legal authority to force Nicolas Cendoya, 19, and Kyndall Jack, 18, to pay up. "We don’t have a basis to go after them today — we didn’t a month ago,” he said.

Rescue workers from Orange, Los Angeles and Riverside counties spent five days searching for the teenagers. Residents and some supervisors made the suggestion to bill the hikers for the search because the pair's ending up in dire straits was largely because they were high. Meth was found in a search of Cendoya's car and he faces one felony count of possession of a controlled substance.

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Some states allow authorities to charge someone for a rescue if they "acted recklessly," but California does not, Nelson said. “You can call 911, they will come rescue you, and for the most part there isn’t a civil or criminal penalty you will pay,” Nelson said.

Supervisor Todd Spitzer plans to propose legislation that would allow this kind of punitive billing, but Nelson doesn't think it'll get very far. “You don’t want people that are stranded waiting until the last minute to call when they could be in extreme distress because the word is, ‘Hey, don’t call (911) until the last resort because you’re getting a bill,'" Nelson said.

Nelson called the whole suggestion a "non-issue," saying, "It isn’t news that the law for the last 250 years remains the same." Oops, guess we're reporting it anyway.