Nueces County authorities were searching for a man who escaped his handcuffs during a traffic stop and then fled in a patrol car with an assault rifle on board.

Fidel Perez, 39, had been on the lam for more than 24 hours after outrunning sheriff's deputies that pursued him in a sport-utility vehicle, authorities said Thursday night.

Corpus Christi police found the abandoned patrol car about 30 minutes after the traffic stop, but a semi-automatic rifle was missing from the car's trunk, Sheriff Jim Kaelin said.

During the Wednesday evening traffic stop, a deputy found what he suspected was stolen copper wire in Perez's trunk and summoned a supervisor for backup.

While deputies were questioning another man in the car, Perez managed to slip the handcuffs under his feet, authorities believe, and climb into the front seat of the patrol car. The car didn't have a cage because it was a supervisor's car, Kaelin said.

The car still had the keys in the ignition when it was recovered, including a key to the handcuffs. Kaelin said the only thing Perez left behind in the car was a pair of shoes.

The weapon had one magazine with it that held about 18 rounds, Kaelin said.

Officers aided by dogs and a helicopter searched an area of tall brush near the abandoned car but never found Perez.

"Now, we're checking out several addresses that we had on file for him in the past and trying to contact some family members," said Pete Peralta, assistant chief deputy.

Kaelin said the deputy and supervisor appeared to have been following department policy during the traffic stop. The incident is under review, he said.