High In The Wilderness

A recent Yahoo News story raised a number of interesting questions. It begins as follows:

SANTA ANA, Calif. (AP) — Two teen hikers lost for days in a California forest might have to pay for part or all of the $160,000 search after a small amount of drugs was found in their car, authorities said.

Officials initially said Nicolas Cendoya, 19, and Kyndall Jack, 18, wouldn’t be responsible. But Cendoya was charged this week with drug possession because methamphetamine was allegedly found in the car the pair parked before going on a hike last month in Cleveland National Forest.

“The recent drug charge on Cendoya may change things,” said Gail Krause, a spokeswoman with the Orange County Sheriff’s Department.

To begin with, there’s a case to be made that anyone who wanders off into the wilderness unprepared or takes off on a ski trip in the face of avalanche warnings should have to take responsibility for the consequences, whatever they might be. In this case, Orange County, California paid $160,000 to rescue these two people who were apparently high on meth and became disoriented as a result. Now, it appears, they may have to pay all or part of the cost of the rescue — but only because drugs were involved. In other words, it’s not because these two did something incredibly stupid making it necessary for others to risk their lives coming to their rescue that they will have to pay the piper. It’s because authorities happened to find drugs in their abandoned car. In this case, the authorities got it half right. In my view, these people should have to pay for the rescue even if the drugs hadn’t been found.

I heard tell of a man who served for a number of years on a search and rescue team in Montana who finally quit because he decided that the people they were rescuing really shouldn’t  be kept in the gene pool. I love it! This is why they give out the Darwin Awards each year, because people do incredibly dumb things and somehow manage to survive — usually — while others often have to risk their lives to save them. But when people do dumb things that require that others risk their lives or spend thousands of dollars rescuing them the very least that fairness demands is that those who were rescued pay the bill.

I wrote a blog some time ago about a man who fell through the ice while fishing on thin ice after being warned not to do so. His rescue cost the country a great deal of money and it was decided that the rescued man should pay the cost. He insisted that he would not pay because it would discourage others from calling for help when in trouble. Now THERE’S a rationalization for you! Instead of accepting responsibility for his actions, he determined to make someone else pay for his blunder on rational grounds as weak as the ice he fell through — and didn’t even have the decency to thank those who pulled him from the icy waters. Ingratitude coupled with smallness of mind. In the end it is all about accepting responsibility for our actions, or, at the very least, thinking our way through the actions to imagine possible outcomes. But we as a people and a nation don’t seem to be very good at that sort of thing. And we’re getting worse as each of us is learning that we can hide, secure behind the word “victim.”


13 thoughts on “High In The Wilderness

  1. Hugh, I’ll play a little devil’s advocate here in light of your recent blogs about the Pennsylvania couple and related comments about people who don’t wear motorcycle helmets or seatbelts: did these kids ask to be rescued? If they asked, then yes they should have to pay.

    But if not, isn’t it their free choice to risk their lives just as it would be a helmetless motorcyclist or the parents who put their kids’ lives on the line by ignoring medical care?

    Same with the guy who fell through the ice. He knew the warnings — just as smokers, motorcyclists, unbelted drivers do — yet did it anyway. Yet we pay for smokers’ medical care, we pay for the very costly, often life-long, trauma care of crash victims with head injuries. If he didn’t ask to be rescued, yet still was, he shouldn’t have to pay for the costs of the rescue. If he did ask to be rescued, even after ignoring the warnings, he should have to pay all the costs out of his own pocket, indeed. Just as helmetless motorcyclists should, no?

    Again, devil’s advocate. I don’t know if there is a general answer to all of these. But wouldn’t the libertarian side argue people can willingly risk their own lives if they want, and the government has no right to interfere or charge them for rescues if they don’t ask for the rescue?

    Or do we borrow from Shana Alexander’s famous line from the early 1980s comedy movie “Airplane 2” ? — “These people knew the risks. They knew there’s a chance that [civilians buying tickets on the Space Shuttle] could die if something went wrong. I say let it crash!”


      • The libertarian champion, J.S. Mill, would insist that people should be allowed to harm themselves. It’s none of the state’s business. It’s when they threaten to harm others that the state must enter in.

  2. ” who finally quit because he decided that the people they were rescuing really shouldn’t be kept in the gene pool. I love it! ” — that must be very frustrating; it reminded me of a comment from a reconstructive surgeon (in costa rica) who put my friend’s face back together after a four-wheeler accident. he said that he had had a lot of practice doing facelifts to gringos, and it was nice to use his gift for something rewarding. (after four hours in the operating room, my friend looked perfect!)

    i’ve done a few things that were probably worth the darwin award, though they were huge ‘teachers’ and still have a strong effect on my daily choices. i’ll have to write about that one day!

    no one should ever claim, ‘victim.’ in doing so, they up personal power and strength and dignity.

  3. “The man who was pulled from the ice, by the way, called the EMT people on his cell phone while he was in the water!” Oh, boy. Then, yes, bill that guy! And take away his beer (just guessing that was involved).

  4. Hugh, there are a lot of issues, some subtle, some less so, in this one. Since we cannot outlaw stupidity and we are all prone to varying levels of dumbness, we unfortunately cannot judge who we save and should save them. What if the nimrod of today wins a nobel prize tomorrow? One of the things I found interesting in the GOP debates last spring, when someone showed up at the hospital without insurance, Ron Paul said to “let them die” and the audience cheered. That is the biggest load of horseshit I have witnessed, as that same Libertarian family member would be begging for treatment for their relative. We should help others no matter what as it is the right thing to do. If we do want to charge them something later, based on their ability to pay (which would happen in a hospital setting), then that is a conversation to be had later. This is a slippery slope of deemed worthiness. Thanks bro, BTG

  5. Thanks Hugh. After I wrote my comment, I was thinking about all of the incredibly smart people I know who have less social acumen. What if one of these very smart people did something incredibly stupid. There was a good example in the paper this weekend of a brilliant UNC professor who had dope on him in the wrong country and was arrested. He was suspended from his job without pay and is suing for back wages. Apparently, he is a well liked, brilliant professor, but lacked common sense and did dumb things on occasion.

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