Divers pull 2 more cars from canal near Patterson as kidnap search goes on

01/21/2011 12:00 AM

01/22/2011 1:42 PM

UPDATE -- 7:10 p.m. Divers pulled the second car of the day from the Delta-Mendota Canal this evening but sheriff's officials said it was not the Toyota Corolla being sought in the kidnapping of 4-year-old Juliani Cardenas of Patterson.


UPDATE — 6:10 p.m. Divers have discovered another car in the canal near Patterson. A diver is going to make an attempt to hook a cable to it in a few minutes.


UPDATE — 3 p.m. Divers pulled a red Ford Mustang from the Delta-Mendota Canal this afternoon. It was the third vehicle dredged from the canal where authorities have focused their search for a missing 4-year-old Patterson boy and his kidnapper. Investigators believe the kidnapper's car may be in the canal.

"This is getting frustrating. It's like riding a roller coaster," Stanislaus County Sheriff Adam Christianson said. "As always, we remain hopeful that we're going to be able to find Jiuliani and bring him home safely."

Jiuliani Cardenas was snatched Tuesday, and a statewide Amber Alert remains in effect for him and Jose Esteban Rodriguez, 27.

Rodriguez drove off with Giuliani in a beige or silver Toyota Corolla, authorities said. A farmworker said he saw a car fitting that description drive into the canal Tuesday.

Authorities initially said the farmworker reported seeing a man in the car, but Christianson disclosed today that the farmworker reported seeing a man and a child.

Christianson said investigators have received hundreds of tips but the canal remains the best credible evidence in the case.

"The reality is, all of the evidence points to this canal," he said.

The Mustang had been stuck on the north side of a series of siphon tubes in the canal. Christian said he was confident that no other vehicles were on that side of the siphon, and that crews would use the remaining daylight to search on the south side.

"I remain hopeful that we get to bring Jiuliani home to his family," he said. "I'm not entirely confident based on what we know at this point."

Television stations have been streaming the search live on the Internet and breaking into air time to show the cars being pulled from the water. A friend of the Cardenas family said family members were not watching.


UPDATE - 1:30 p.m. Divers are expected to go back into the water about 1:30 p.m., authorities on the scene say.


UPDATE - 1:15 p.m. Recovery workers prepared early this afternoon to send the Merced County dive team into the Delta-Mendota Canal to examine an object to which ground crews had hooked a tow line. They weren't certain if the tow line was hooked onto a car that sonar had spotted this morning.

Meanwhile, water crews were preparing to halt for a short time the water flow into the canal so cut down the current and make it easier for recovery crews to get at the car.

The recovery operation was expected to begin around 1:30 p.m.


UPDATE - Noon: Using sonar to probe a canal near Patterson, searchers late this morning spotted a car near a siphoning system. Crews were trying to slow the flow of water to enable divers to access the vehicle, which authorities are trying to recover to see if it was used to take away a kidnapped 4-year-old Patterson boy.

Authorities said it would take a couple of hours to lower the water level enough to enable the recovery of the vehicle, which was trapped near siphoning equipment in the Delta-Mendota Canal.

KCRA television reported at noon that ground crews were able to attach a cable to the car, and authorities were trying to determine the best way to bring the vehicle to the surface.

----- UPDATE 10:15 a.m.: Sonar equipment was lowered into a canal near Patterson this morning as investigators continued their search for a kidnap suspect and his 4-year-old victim.

Officials with the Merced County Sheriff’s Office arrived at the canal on Zacharias Road just after 8 a.m.

About an hour later, they lowered their $200,000 sonar into the water near the canal’s siphoning system.

The sonar must be lowered into the three tubes that lead into the canal’s siphon, which is used to filter the water. They will search the north side of the siphon first, then possibly go to the south side.

They are searching for a car investigators believe was used in the abduction of Juliani Cardenas, the young boy who was ripped out of the arms of his grandmother at her Patterson home about three miles from the canal.

The suspect, Jose Esteban Rodriguez, 27, has not been seen of or heard from by friends or family since the abduction, according Singh.

A farmworker near the canal that's being searched reported seeing a car go into the water about 45 minutes after the abduction. Fresh tire tracks leading into the canal were found by investigators just north of the sipon area.

Dive crews found one car on the north side of the siphon and one on the south side during searches on Wednesday and Thursday. Both cars had been previously reported as stolen, and were not related to the case.

The sonar is being used today because the fast-moving currents near the area of the siphon make it impossible for divers to navigate.

Raj Singh, spokesman for the Stanislaus County Sheriff's Department, said that even if the sonar detects something, crews are still unsure how it will be retrieved.

The Bee's Erin Tracy has been at the scene this morning, and will update this story throughout the day. You can also follow the breaking news at twitter.com/modbee

UPDATE 8:30 a.m.: Officials with the Merced County Sheriff's Department have arrived at a canal near Patterson to use its sonar equipment in search of a car authorities believe was involved in a kidnapping on Tuesday.

The sonar is being used in an area near the canal's siphon, which makes it impossible for divers to search because of the strong current.

Raj Singh, spokesman for the Stanislaus County Sheriff's Department, said that even if the sonar detects something, crews are still unsure how it will be retrieved.

The Bee's Erin Tracy has been at the scene this morning, and will update this story throughout the day. You can also follow the breaking news at twitter.com/modbee

PATTERSON — Stanislaus County authorities will use sonar equipment Friday morning at a canal near Patterson to search for a car they say was involved in the abduction of a 4-year-old boy.

A search of the Delta-Mendota Canal on Thursday was called off about noon after a second vehicle retrieved from the fast-moving waters turned out to be a stolen car.

Later in the day, a report that the man and boy were at a store in the Kern County town of Delano turned out to be unfounded, according to Raj Singh, the Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Department spokesman.

Jose Esteban Rodriguez, 27, is suspected of snatching 4-year-old Juliani Cardenas from his grandmother’s arms in Patterson on Tuesday afternoon.

Rodriguez, who has an extensive criminal history, is the former boyfriend of Juliani’s mother, Tabitha Cardenas. She is pregnant with Rodriguez’s child.

Rodriguez was living in Patterson with roommates, Singh said. Investigators interviewed them after the abduction, but none said they knew of Rodriguez’s whereabouts.

Stanislaus County Sheriff Adam Christianson said there has been no “electronic signature” of Rodriguez since a surveillance camera spotted him at a Patterson convenience store Tuesday afternoon.

That means his cell phone has not been turned on, nor has there been proof of a credit card transaction, Christianson said.

Singh said Thursday night that none of Rodriguez’s family have reported hearing from him.

The sonar from the Merced County Sheriff’s Department Dive Team will be used to search the area near the canal siphon just south of where a farmworker saw a car matching the description of the suspect’s vehicle roll into the water.

Christianson said dive teams who have searched the area for two days couldn’t get within 100 feet of the siphon because of the swift current.

Christianson, who has been at canal at Zacharias Road the past two days, said moments after calling off Thursday’s search that the Amber Alert issued Tuesday is “absolutely still active.”

“We want everyone to be looking for this car, looking for the suspect and looking for the little boy,” he said. “We’re not going to cease looking for our victim. Unfortunately, we’re almost back to square one.”

Singh said Rodriguez was convicted of manslaughter in 1999, and also has been charged with unlawful sexual intercourse and drunken driving.

Cardenas has said she didn’t believe Rodriguez, who is not Juliani’s biological father, would hurt her son.

Crews returned Thursday morning to the canal, which is about three miles from the home where the boy was taken. Late Wednesday afternoon, divers pulled out a car unrelated to the kidnapping.

It happened again Thursday morning. Crews retrieved a silver Lexus believed to have been stolen in Stockton earlier this month.

“Unfortunately, we have been unable to locate the (kidnapper’s) vehicle,” Christianson said after the discovery. “Fortunately, that means there’s still hope that we’re going to find this little boy alive.”

The witness, who Christianson said has been very cooperative, was brought back to the canal and said the Lexus appeared similar to the vehicle he saw, which was silver or beige.

Rodriguez drives a silver Toyota Corolla.

Detectives were trying to match tire tracks found on the canal bank to those of the Lexus. They expected to have those results Friday.

Christianson said the farmworker’s statement was the “best credible lead” investigators have had.

The waters north of Zacharias Road were searched Wednesday. That’s the side that has the tire tracks leading into the canal. Thursday morning, they searched about a 150-yard stretch to the south.

In between is the siphoning system where the 50-degree water rushes through at about 4,000 cubic feet per second.

“There isn’t a dive operation in existence that would allow a human diver to get into that siphon,” Christianson said.

He was told that somehow shutting off the water was impossible due to lack of storage.

Before the announcement of the sonar, Christianson said it was possible a car could get stuck in the siphon area indefinitely. It could also go through the area because of the strong current.

He said it’s unlikely the car would be much further down the canal if it indeed entered at the tire tracks.

However, if bodies were not trapped in the car, they could be miles downstream. He said authorities in Merced County and further south have been notified.

Christianson said the FBI and the Department of Justice are among the numerous law enforcement agencies helping in the search.

An Amber Alert remains in effect for Rodriguez’s Toyota Corolla with California license plate 6HBW445.

Juliani was wearing black “Spider-Man” shoes that light up, a light blue fleece sweat shirt, a pajama shirt and black sweat pants. Rodriguez was last seen wearing a white and black shirt, checkered shorts and a beanie.

View Patterson kidnap case in a larger map

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