PATTERSON, Calif. — Hanging on to the only credible tip they have, Stanislaus County authorities returned to a rural canal west of here to comb the waters once more for a missing 4-year-old kidnap victim and his abductor.
But the efforts were unrewarded. Deputies pulled a Nissan pickup from the canal, but determined it was unrelated to the case, making it the fifth car or truck pulled from the Delta-Mendota Canal in the search for Juliani Cardenas and the man accused of taking him, Jose Estaban Rodriguez.
Rodriguez, 27, is suspected of snatching Juliani from his grandmother's arms in Patterson on Tuesday afternoon.
Authorities initially said a farmworker reported seeing a man in a car that entered the canal about 45 minutes after the abduction. Stanislaus County Sheriff Adam Christianson disclosed Friday that the farmworker reported seeing two people in the car.
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. Singh, a sheriff's spokesman, said Friday night there's been no sign that Rodriguez has used a credit card or cell phone. The last "electronic signature" of him was surveillance video from a Patterson convenience store on the day of the abduction.
Singh said investigators continue to speak with Rodriguez's family in San Jose, and other family members and friends in Patterson, Los Banos, Merced and Stockton.
"There's been no indication they are hiding him," Singh said.
Juliani's grandmother, Amparo Cardenas, said after the second car was pulled from the canal on Friday night that she believes Rodriguez and her grandson are still alive.
"The car is not going to be there," she said standing outside her home, where the abduction occurred. "They're out moving around somewhere, and he really doesn't know what to do anymore."
Juliani's mother, Tabitha Cardenas, did not come out to talk to the media Friday night.
She is pregnant with Rodriguez's child, but doesn't believe her ex-boyfriend, who is not Juliani's biological father, would hurt the boy.
Rodriguez and Juliani were last seen in a silver Toyota Corolla.
After pulling two cars from the canal on Wednesday and Thursday, crews returned with sonar equipment to search water near the canal's siphon that's too dangerous for divers.
Friday afternoon, a red Ford Mustang was retrieved north of the siphon. Friday night, a Honda Accord was recovered.
"This is getting frustrating. It's like riding a roller coaster," Christianson said after the third car was retrieved. "As always, we remain hopeful that we're going to be able to find Juliani and bring him home safely."
Singh said the sonar equipment from the Merced County Sheriff's Department was not able to search inside the three tubes directing water into the siphon, which is used to filter it.
For a second straight day, they'll ask the water authority to temporarily shut down the flow from upstream, which would give them about 30 minutes to search an area about 50 to 100 feet wide.
Singh said his department is taking a cautious approach to what could be a grisly scene played out on live television if Rodriguez's car is pulled out.
Friends of Amparo Cardenas have said the family is not watching the search on TV.
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.