PATTERSON, Calif. (AP) — Divers on Saturday ended their search in a canal without finding the bodies of a missing 4-year-old boy and his alleged kidnapper near the underwater site where the suspect's car was found.
A dive team searched an underwater tunnel for Juliani Cardenas and 27-year-old Jose Esteban Rodriguez without success. Sonar also failed to turn up any sign of bodies.
Rodriguez is suspected of kidnapping Juliani Cardenas, his ex-girlfriend's son, from the boy's grandmother in Patterson on Jan. 18.
The crews "are satisfied that the siphon is clear," Stanislaus County Sheriff's Deputy Royjindar Singh said, referring to the long underwater tunnel connecting two sections of the Delta-Mendota Canal in Central California. "There's no bodies in there."
Rodriguez's damaged Toyota Corolla was recovered Friday evening from the canal outside Patterson, but the pair were not inside.
Ground and air crews were still searching a 100-mile stretch of canal downstream from where the car was found, authorities said.
Divers have been combing the canal for more than a week since a farmworker told authorities that he saw a car matching Rodriguez's head into the water with a man and a boy inside.
"As always, I've been cautiously hopeful that I would bring little Juliani home alive," Stanislaus County Sheriff Adam Christianson said. "But there is absolutely no information or evidence or anything else that tells us this car went into the canal and then (Rodriguez) fled the scene."
Authorities have been searching the canal for more than a week, pulling up the Toyota and 15 other vehicles, mostly stolen. Another car was recovered Saturday, a Ford Taurus reported stolen from San Francisco in 2007, bringing the total number of cars recovered during the search to 17.
Juliani's mother, Tabitha Cardenas, who has publicly pleaded for her son's safe return, is eight months pregnant with Rodriguez's unborn daughter. She ended her relationship with him several months ago.
On Friday, Cardenas tearfully said on HLN's Nancy Grace that she believes Rodriguez dumped his car in the canal and had help doing it.
"I'm thinking who would do that? I'm thinking it must've been a family member," Cardenas said. "If just you're somebody's friend, why would you go to such great lengths to help him?"
While authorities have feared the worst, the owner of the dive team service contracted by law enforcement to conduct the underwater search Friday and Saturday said he believed that if the bodies were in the canal, they would have turned up by now.
"If they would have been anywhere, they would have been where the car was" said John DeCicco, owner of Fresno-based Action Towing and Dive Team.
DeCicco said his company has recovered 15 bodies from Central Valley canals over the past several years as part of law enforcement investigations.
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