Parole violator Miguel Angel Quijada got away, but deputies from the Hillsborough Sheriff's Street Crimes Unit didn't end their night empty handed.
Five fugitives from Plant City, Dover and Seffner were behind bars again and the deputies had uncovered a couple of methamphetamine labs in what was the fourth night of Operation Grinch Stop.
The weeklong push aimed at capturing fugitives and probation violators started Dec. 10 and involved 30 deputies and corrections officers.
Altogether, deputies made 31 arrests on 40 charges, plus recovered four handguns and a shotgun, the sheriff's office said.
"Some of these violators will be heading back to prison instead of roaming the streets looking for their next victims," Lt. Frank Losat said.
High on their list last week was the elusive Quijada, 26, who had served time in 2009 for kidnapping and assault but now was wanted for breaking parole.
On the night of Dec. 13, after busting a meth lab at 3209 Young Road, deputies from the Street Crimes Unit converged at the Circle K at Thonotosassa Road and Interstate 4 to coordinate their next moves.
Five peeled away to look for Quijada, who seemed to bounce from house to house each night looking for places to crash.
"He's a runner," Deputy Chris Maffei, 27, said as he wheeled up to a tan brick house on Forbes Road. "If he sees you coming, it's not above him to run and hide."
A woman at the door said Quijada wasn't there but they were free to look around. Two deputies emerged 10 minutes later without him.
Next up was a caramel brown house at Rex Avenue and Downing Street, across from the Dover Advent Christian Church. A chain-link fence covered in vines rimmed the property, making it secluded.
Quijada came by occasionally but hadn't been seen in three days, deputies were told.
Two went inside. Two more went to an apartment out back. The occupants seemed overly cordial and relaxed, standing with the deputies in the chilly night air.
Minutes later, three men and a woman left the property, walking up Rex Avenue.
"It's not good when you show up and people start to leave," Deputy Ryan Daniels said.
The deputies gave them a head start of a block or so, then hopped into their squad cars to follow. They all ended up at the Taqueria Pancho Villa, a taco stand at Dover Road.
One of the men turned out to have an oustanding warrant on a theft charge and initially gave deputies a false name.
It wasn't the name of someone else, but the name of someone who doesn't exist according to DMV records.
Deputies nudged the handcuffed man into a squad car. At that point, he seemed more forthcoming, giving deputies what they really wanted: information.
Later that night, they made three more arrests and busted another meth lab.
Quijada wasn't to be found, but deputies seemed closer to catching him.
"He'll turn up," Deputy Jessica Guthrie said as she drove toward downtown Plant City. "He'll get picked up on a traffic stop or on another call."
Rich Shopes can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 661-2454.