POSTED: 5:33 p.m. HST, May 22, 2013
LAST UPDATED: 4:36 a.m. HST, May 23, 2013
SANTA ANA, Calif. » A volunteer searcher who broke his back while looking for a teenager who was lost in Orange County wilderness says he deserves restitution if the teen is convicted on drug charges.
Nick Papageorge, 20, said after Nic Cendoya's arraignment was postponed Wednesday that his medical bills could total $350,000, City News Service reported.
Papageorge searched Trabuco Canyon's woods with other members of the Orange County sheriff's volunteer search team when Cendoya, 19, and his friend Kyndall Jack, 18, went missing on Easter Sunday.
They called for help after wandering off trail in the Cleveland National Forest. Cendoya was found three days later and Jack was found the following day. Both were dehydrated and delirious.
Papageorge says that while searching for the pair, he fell 110 feet in the steep terrain and bounced off a rocky cliff twice, breaking his back.
Papageorge displayed X-rays of his injured back Wednesday, saying doctors implanted two titanium rods and 11 screws to repair his spine.
"I start physical therapy this week and I'm very thankful to be here," said Papageorge, adding that he doesn't wish ill on Cendoya.
Authorities said methamphetamine was found in Cendoya's car as they investigated the pair's disappearance. If convicted of felony drug possession, he could get up to three years in prison.
The search for Cendoya and Jack cost Orange County an estimated $160,000. Last week, county officials decided they don't have the authority to seek reimbursement from the pair, but they're now seeking to change that.
Supervisors voted Tuesday to propose state legislation that would charge reckless people for the cost of rescuing them. Assemblyman Don Wagner has agreed to carry a bill, which permits counties and cities to recover rescue costs for people who put themselves in peril through illegal or reckless acts.