The Sheriff’s Department called-off its massive manhunt in the rugged hills east of Alpine after authorities failed to find any evidence that accused drug trafficker Johnnie Leroy Caldwell was in the area, a spokesman said.

Caldwell, 41, has managed to elude authorities since Wednesday when police said he torched the house he used as a methamphetamine lab.

He apparently escaped during the fire, authorities said.

He was last seen Friday by a Sheriff’s Department helicopter pilot who reported seeing Caldwell in brush and again after the pilot landed the helicopter in the Japatul Highlands area.


Caldwell pointed a handgun at the pilot, but did not shoot, before escaping again, sheriff’s deputies said.

Nearly 40 men from the Sheriff’s Department, Border Patrol and U.S. Marshal’s office combed the mountainous area with helicopters, dogs and infrared equipment since the search began.

Caldwell also is suspected of torching a Chula Vista condominium used as a drug lab moments before Drug Enforcement Administration agents converged on the home last fall to make an arrest.