A week after the Patterson boy was snatched from his grandmother’s arms in her garage, authorities’ focus remains at the canal, where a farm worker claimed he saw a man and a child in a silver car drive into the canal the night of the kidnapping. The vehicle matches the description of the silver 2003 Toyota Corolla driven by alleged kidnapper, Jose Esteban Rodriguez, 27, sheriff’s officials say.
Following a 48-hour break, crews will continue using sonar equipment about two miles downstream from where they spent much of Saturday near the area where investigators found tread marks into the canal. Five vehicles have been retrieved from the Delta Mendota so far, but none match the kidnapper’s car.
Despite hundreds of other possible sightings of Juliani and Rodriguez, Sheriff Adam Christianson has said the farm worker’s sighting at the canal remains the most credible lead in the case.
There is no indication that Rodriguez has made cell phone calls, financial purchases or withdrawals since the afternoon of Jan. 18, when he purchased alcohol at a local convenience store shortly before taking Juliani, Christianson said. Though a search team found a silver Lexus with Saturn wheels in the canal close to the tire tracks, an FBI study indicated the tread does not match the Lexus', further leading investigators to believe the farm worker saw Rodriguez’s car enter the waterway.
Rodriguez is the ex-boyfriend of Juliani’s mother, Tabitha, and not the boy’s father, though he has been in Juliani’s life since the boy was 2 months old, Tabitha said. He used to live at the Cardenas’ Barros Street residence along with Tabitha, but he left at least a year ago.
Tabitha thinks the death of Rodriguez’s father two years ago, their breakup about six months ago and the recent loss of his job may have contributed to his brash action to take Juliani. In addition, Rodriguez had dealt with alcohol problems for some time, and possibly drugs as well, she said.
An Amber Alert for Juliani is still in effect, though it was downgraded Saturday from a statewide to a regional alert for the area extending between Fresno and Stockton and San Jose, where many of Rodriguez’s friends and family live. Rodriguez’s 2003 silver Toyota Corolla has a California license plate of 6HBW445 and oversize aluminum wheels, with a right front spare tire, and dark tinted windows.
Anyone who sees Juliani or the suspect is asked to contact Sgt. Joe Camarda at 380-6015.