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Alpine

Accused drug trafficker Johnnie Leroy Caldwell continued to elude authorities Friday night as a posse of 40 sheriff’s deputies and Drug Enforcement Administration officers combed the rugged area known as Japatul Highlands.

Caldwell fled early Wednesday after he torched the house and garage in Alpine that was a suspected methamphetamine lab, authorities said. Last fall, he was suspected of torching a Chula Vista condominium used as a drug lab.

On Friday, an Astrea pilot, Bill Hubbard, reported having seen the suspect in a bush in the Japatul area. After the pilot landed the helicopter, he again saw Caldwell, who was brandishing a handgun. Hubbard hit the dirt and the man again escaped.

The posse will keep a vigil in the area until the suspect is apprehended, a spokesman said.

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