Tip about van led to arrest of escapees in San Francisco
Santa Ana, Calif. — After a week with SWAT raids and a gang dragnet, it was an observant citizen who led police to the two remaining violent fugitives who broke out of a California jail eight days ago using a Google Earth map and a rope made of bed linens.
The unidentified man flagged down officers near San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park just before 9 a.m. Saturday and pointed out a parked white van that looked like one believed stolen by the trio of inmates during the brazen escape, authorities said. 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, Orange County Sheriff Sandra Hutchens said. He surrendered without incident.
“I think I did a big ‘Whoop!’ in the air,” Hutchens said, describing her excitement about the arrests at a news conference. “No sheriff wants to have an escape, especially as dangerous as these individuals were. My fear was that someone in the community was going to get hurt because they really had nothing to lose in my mind.”
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 where the trio had been housed. 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?
Orange County resident Devin Gyst would like those answers. He was glad the three were caught but is concerned about jail security. Gyst also wondered how the inmates could have traveled hundred miles while sheriff’s officials were publicly stating they believed the men still were in the area.
“It’s frightening to know these people were out who’ve done severe crimes. I don’t want to be a victim,” said Gyst, who lives in nearby Tustin. “I mean, how did they get all the way to San Francisco?”
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 the white GMC van and stole it during a test drive, authorities said.
Saturday’s arrests happened in an area popular with both tourists and the homeless.
Vergel Dalusung said he saw three police cars surrounding a white van that was parked across the street from a McDonald’s, just outside a Whole Foods Market. He only saw police handcuff one man and put him in a patrol car, and it happened very quickly, he said.
“And that’s when I stopped looking because I figured it was all taken care of,” Dalusung said.
Authorities in Orange County first said the tipster who led police to the fugitives was a woman, but the San Francisco Police Department later corrected that information and said it was a man who flagged down police officers.
Hutchens said the men’s capture clears the way for an intense probe into how they were able to escape.
“We do not want another escape from an Orange County jail, I can tell you that,” the sheriff said. “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.’”
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.
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