Car linked to boy’s kidnapping is found in canal
(01-28) 18:51 PST PATTERSON, STANISLAUS COUNTY –Divers removed an empty car from a San Joaquin Valley canal Friday, a grim indicator that the body of 4-year-old Stanislaus County boy kidnapped from his grandmother’s arms more than a week ago is somewhere downstream, authorities said.
The Toyota Corolla linked to the suspect in the Jan. 18 kidnapping of Juliani Cardenas was discovered inside a tunnel in the Delta-Mendota Canal near Patterson by a dive team’s sonar system Friday morning.
Just before nightfall, divers were able to attach a cable to the front end of the sedan, and the car was dragged from a clogged siphon where the canal narrows to a width of 16 feet, Sheriff Adam Christianson said.
The bodies of Juliani and his suspected kidnapper, 27-year-old Jose Esteban Rodriguez, were not in the car. Christianson said two windows of the four-door Corolla were down, and that it was likely that the bodies had been swept downstream.
“There’s no evidence that this car went in the canal and Jose fled the scene,” the sheriff said.
he said it was improbable that Rodriguez was alive and holding the boy somewhere.
“He was not sophisticated enough, he did not have the resources, support or finances, to pull off that kind of an abduction,” Christianson said.
Police said Rodriguez, who has a manslaughter conviction, yanked Juliani from the arms of his ex-girlfriend’s mother in Patterson the afternoon of Jan. 18. Rodriguez’s ex-girlfriend is Juliani’s mother, but Rodriguez is not the boy’s father, authorities said.
A witness later told police he had seen a silver Toyota Corolla, with a man and boy inside, plunge in the canal.
“We believe our witness – he’s absolutely credible,” Christianson said. “There’s the car.”
Earlier in the day, Juliani’s family was notified about the discovery of the car by a victim’s advocate with the FBI, which is assisting with the case, the sheriff said.
Search crews removed about a dozen stolen cars while diving along 12 miles of the canal over the past week. When the Toyota was pulled from the canal Friday evening, it was tangled with two other cars.
Crews had already searched around the tunnel, which is part of the canal’s siphon system, Christianson said. Patterson Police Chief Tori Hughes contacted the sheriff Thursday night, urging that the siphon system be checked again, Christianson said.
“Remember that these are very difficult circumstances in which to search,” Christianson said. “The construction and the design of the canal, the water conditions, the fact that we repeatedly had to work with the water authority to raise and lower the water levels – it’s not perfect, and that’s why we weren’t going to give up.
“We’re certainly saddened by the fact that we found the car,” the sheriff said, “even though we knew we would.”
Christianson said recovery workers would continue to search the waterway in search of the bodies. he said divers would wait until daybreak Saturday to resume their search.
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