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Authorities search on water and on land for a suspect who had spotted them waiting.

Little Man Rayford is either at the bottom of Hunter's Lake or he swam to freedom.

The law still wants him, dead or alive.

"We're continuing efforts to locate him in both manners," said Donna Black, spokeswoman for the Hernando County Sheriff's Office.

His first name is James. He's called Little Man, even though he's 6 feet, 2 inches and weighs 200 pounds.

He is from Lacoochee and was a felon before he was old enough to drink. His arrest record is 20 pages long - armed burglary, grand theft, possessing and selling marijuana and cocaine.

He's 35, and spent nearly 11 of those years in prison. The last time he got out was Jan. 1, 2008. Two days later he was arrested for marijuana possession, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. He spent nearly three more months in jail.

Authorities tried to find him a year later, in January 2009, when his pregnant girlfriend said he punched her several times in the face and then sped off in his truck. She said the argument started when she asked him to buy baby items.

A deputy spotted Rayford later that month on Fivay Road in Hudson and tried to pull him over. Rayford ditched his truck and ran into the woods. A canine officer found a pill bottle with crack cocaine in it, according to a report. But Rayford vanished.

A few weeks later, in February, deputies found Rayford in Room 14 at the Suncoast Motel on U.S. 19. A report said Rayford - who answered the door in his underwear - had cocaine, marijuana and nearly $6,000 in cash in his room when he was arrested. In handcuffs, Rayford still tried to run away, the report states. He got a few hundred feet before being caught again. He was put in leg shackles.

"James advised it was stupid and he was not thinking," the report states.

"James stated he was not going to try to run away again."

But he did.

There were warrants for his arrest for failing to appear in court. He was listed on the Pasco County sheriff's Web site as one of its most wanted fugitives. It read:


It said Rayford was known to frequent Pasco motels. But in the end, they found him fishing. They got a tip he was out on Hunter's Lake in Spring Hill on Thursday afternoon. Hernando and Pasco county deputies and detectives were there on land, waiting for him.

At 5 o'clock, Rayford steered his boat to shore. But as soon as he saw authorities there to arrest him, he jumped into a blue kayak and paddled away, headed toward a small island, Black said.

A helicopter tracked him. Rayford ditched the kayak and dived into the water.

The pilot saw him come up for air several times.

Then he lost sight of him.

Since Thursday night, divers have scanned the water for Rayford's body. Authorities also searched the surrounding area.

Rayford's family members have been notified.

"At this point, he either escaped or he drowned," Black said.

As far as how they proceed, and for how long, Black said:

"We keep searching."

Times researcher Shirl Kennedy contributed to this report. Erin Sullivan can be reached at or (727) 869-6229.