SANTA ANA, Calif.—Now that the three violent inmates who escaped from a California jail are back in custody, the focus will turn to how they were able to saw, crawl and climb their way out of a maximum-security facility.
Orange County Sheriff Sandra Hutchens said she was elated to announce the arrests of the final two fugitives Saturday after eight days on the run from the jail she oversees. But the tough work is just getting started to determine and fix the security lapses that allowed the escape.
“Believe me, we will be looking top to bottom on that,” she said. “We do not want another escape from an Orange County jail.”
The last two escapees were caught after a civilian flagged down officers near San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park and pointed out a parked van that looked like one believed stolen by the trio of inmates during the brazen escape. The man also said someone who looked like one of the fugitives was in the area.
Police approached Hossein Nayeri, the suspected mastermind of the jail break, and he was captured after a short foot chase. The second fugitive, 20-year-old Jonathan Tieu, was found hiding in the van with ammunition but no gun. He surrendered without incident.
A third inmate, Bac Duong, 43, surrendered Friday after walking into an auto repair shop in Santa Ana just a few miles from the jail. He told police he had been with the others in San Jose, and the search immediately shifted to the San Francisco Bay Area.
Authorities were interviewing the inmates, hoping to fill the many holes about the escape and their week on the run. How did they get the sharp cutting tools to hack their way through jail walls? What did they do outside the walls? Where did they stay? How did they get money for gas and food?
The three did not know each other before being housed in the Orange County jail. They were awaiting trial on charges including murder, attempted murder, torture and kidnapping. Duong and Tieu have ties to street gangs that operate in the shadows of Orange County’s thriving Vietnamese community.
While behind bars, the three were housed together in a large jail module that held 65 other men, about half of whom were in custody for violent felonies.
Early on Jan. 22, the trio sawed through a metal grate covering a plumbing tunnel, then crawled through piping to reach the jail’s roof. There, they pushed aside barbed wire and used a rope made of bedsheets to rappel four stories to the ground.
Jailers did not realize the inmates were missing for 16 hours, an embarrassment for Hutchens that has prompted changes in jail operations, but no firings. The intensive search and investigation produced no tangible results for days and then, on Thursday, authorities arrested a woman who taught English at the jail.
Nooshafarin Ravaghi, a 44-year-old children’s book author, gave Nayeri a paper copy of a Google Earth map that showed an aerial view of the entire jail compound, sheriff’s spokesman Lt. Jeff Hallock said. She was booked on suspicion of being an accessory to a felony and was being held pending a court appearance set for Monday. It wasn’t clear if she had a lawyer.
Authorities say she and Nayeri—who both were born in Iran—exchanged letters and had a relationship that was closer than it should have been, but stopped short of calling it romantic. Nayeri is a former Marine who grew up in the Fresno area, and authorities say it’s unclear why as an English speaker he was in her class that teaches English as a second language.
The day after the escape, Duong responded to a Craig’s List ad for a white GMC van and stole it during a test drive, authorities said.
Hutchens said the men’s capture clears the way for an intense probe into how they were able to escape.
“We’re going to do everything we can in our power—and it’s not enough to say, ‘Gee, we have an old jail, it’s a challenging place,’ ” she said.
Built in 1968, the jail that housed the men holds about 900 inmates. It was the first breakout from the facility in nearly 30 years.
The three will now return to the jail from which they escaped, Hutchens said. “I can tell you they won’t be together,” she said.
Key Events in the Escape and Hunt for 3 California Inmates
- Friday, Jan. 22, 5 a.m.: Nayeri, Tieu and Duong are last seen at an early morning head count in the Men’s Central Jail in Santa Ana, California.
- Friday, Jan. 22, sometime after 5 a.m.: Nayeri, Tieu and Duong saw through a metal grate, crawl through a plumbing tunnel to the jail’s roof and rappel four stories to freedom using a rope made of bedsheets. Jail staff don’t realize they’re missing for 16 hours.
- Friday, Jan. 22, 9 p.m.: Jail staff realizes the three are missing during an evening head count.
- Saturday, Jan. 23: Authorities say Duong steals a white GMC van after responding to a Craig’s List ad. Search efforts are focused on Southern California.
- Thursday, Jan. 28: Law enforcement conduct raids of suspected gang locations in Westminster. Over the week, authorities arrest 10 people on probation and parole violations to put pressure on Vietnamese street gangs who might be helping the trio.
- Friday, Jan. 29: Duong walks into an auto repair shop in Santa Ana and says he wants to surrender. The hunt shifts to the north after Duong tells investigators he was with Nayeri and Tieu in San Jose as recently as Thursday afternoon.
- Saturday, Jan. 30: Nayeri and Tieu are arrested in San Francisco after a tipster spots the white van parked near a Whole Foods Market.