PATTERSON In the week since 4-year-old Juliani Cardenas was abducted, divers searching the Delta-Mendota Canal have located eight automobiles and a motorcycle in the murky water, none of which provide any clues into the boy's disappearance.
"At some point our efforts are not sustainable, and we cannot keep allocating our efforts to this search that is locating nothing but stolen vehicles," Stanislaus County Sheriff Adam Christianson said Tuesday.
Divers from Merced and Stanislaus counties returned to the canal Tuesday after a two-day break. The Merced team again used sonar to search the area south of where a witness reported seeing a car matching that of kidnapping suspect Jose Esteban Rodriguez on Jan. 18.
Christianson maintains that the canal continues to be the strongest lead in the case.
"(Rodriguez) is a suspect that is not sophisticated enough to pull off an abduction and disappear," he said.
A Honda Accord, a pickup, a sport utility vehicle and a motorcycle were pulled from the canal Tuesday. As the Merced County dive team worked south, Stanislaus County officials started dragging the water north from Anderson Road near Crows Landing.
Stanislaus sheriff's deputy Royjindar Singh said if there was any chance Rodriguez and Juliani went into the canal and somehow were dislodged from the car, "we've known for a fact when bodies do end up in the water, they have floated downstream several miles and sometimes into multiple counties."
As the sun set and fog settled in the valley Tuesday, several attempts to latch onto a fifth vehicle failed. Efforts were suspended at 6 p.m.
About an hour later, hundreds of people attended a second vigil for Juliani at the Barros Street home in Patterson where the boy was taken from the arms of his grandmother.
All week, news media, law enforcement officials and Red Cross volunteers have been parked at the quiet cul-de-sac. It sits about three miles from the canal bank near Zacharias Road where a witness claims to have seen a car matching that of the suspect's roll into the water with two people inside about an hour after Juliani was grabbed.
Law enforcement will return to the location west of Ward Avenue this morning to retrieve the vehicle that is wedged in the canal in front of a concrete wall that acts as an overflow to the California Aqueduct.
In all, at least 12 miles of canal have been searched using dragged ropes, three-pronged hooks or sonar. About a milelong stretch between Sperry and Ward avenues has yet to be searched, and that's where law enforcement will start today.
"It is frustrating," Singh said. "It was frustrating when we found car No. 2, car No. 3. As the search continues, we know for a fact that we will find more vehicles."
"Our hope is that the car is somewhere else," he said, "but our evidence points us to the water."
It is unclear what will happen if the search continues to yield nothing but vehicles unrelated to the kidnapping.
"Those evaluations will be based on daily operations," Christianson said.
The sheriff said the operation is costly, but would not venture to guess what the total bill will be for overtime and resource allocation.
"These are cases that you can't budget for, just like
homicide, you cannot plan and budget," he said.
Bee staff writer Erin Tracycan be reached at email@example.com or 578-2366.