The eight-day search for three inmates who escaped from the Orange County Central Men’s Jail ended Saturday in San Francisco with the capture of the remaining two inmates by police in that city, who were tipped off by a citizen who spotted a white van the convicts were using in the parking lot of a Whole Foods Market.
Arrested in San Francisco were Hossein Nayeri of Newport Beach, 37, and Jonathan Tieu of Fountain Valley, 20. The third escapee, Bac Duong of Santa Ana, 43, was arrested Friday in Santa Ana.
“I can say this morning that the entire state can breathe a sigh of relief, because we have the other two dangerous individuals back in custody, where they should be,” said Orange County Sheriff Sandra Hutchens.
The white van was spotted at about 8:50 a.m. today in the parking lot at 690 Stanyan St. in San Francisco’s famed Haight-Ashbury district, Hutchens said during a noon press conference at the Sheriff’s Headquarters in Santa Ana.
Authorities originally reported that the citizen who alerted officers to the van was female, but San Francisco police later said they had confirmed it was a man.
“She told the officers that it looks like the van she was seeing on the news,” Hutchens said. “I think she’s eligible for some (reward) monies.” Officers from the San Francisco Police Department’s Park District station were on an unrelated medical aid call in the area when the citizen approached the officers and pointed out a white van in the parking lot.
“Officers approached the van as Hossein Nayeri fled the area on foot,” Hutchens said. “A short foot pursuit ensued before Nayeri was taken into custody.”
Officers immediately returned to the white van, Hutchens said, and discovered Tieu hiding in the van.
Officers then confirmed that the vehicle was the same white GMC Savana van that Santa Duong stole last Saturday in Los Angeles.
Hutchens said “a number” of .380 ammunition rounds were found inside the van, but no weapon was recovered.
Nayeri and Tieu were booked at the department’s Park District station and then sent to the San Francisco County Jail, where Orange County Sheriff’s Department investigators will be interviewing them.
“We are currently in the process of coordinating with the San Francisco County Sheriff’s Department to (transport) both Nayeri and Tieu back to our custody,” Hutchens said.
Duong was arrested Friday in the 1400 block of North Harbor Boulevard, according to Santa Ana police Cpl. Anthony Bertagna.
He approached a civilian, who called police at 11:21 a.m., Bertagna said.
“Bac Duong contacted a civilian on the streets of Santa Ana and stated he wanted to turn himself in,” Hutchens said Friday.
An employee of Auto Electric Rebuilders, 1421 N. Harbor Blvd., told reporters Duong walked into the store and said he wanted to surrender. Duong is apparently acquainted with the store’s owner and his wife, and he spoke to the wife, who called 911, according to reports from the scene.
The white GMC Savana van was listed for sale on Craigslist, and Duong apparently took it for a test drive in South Los Angeles last week, then stole it. Investigators said they believed the three escapees were living out of the van.
Orange County Sheriff’s Lt. Jeff Hallock said all three escapees were spotted Thursday in San Jose, but Duong somehow made his way back to Santa Ana to surrender.
Hallock said “there may be some associations of one of the suspects (Nayeri) in the Fresno area.”
On Thursday, a 44-year-old Lake Forest woman who taught English classes at the jail was arrested for allegedly providing information to Nayeri, who was one of her jailhouse students.
Nooshafarin Ravaghi, who works for the Rancho Santiago Community College District, had been teaching English-as-a-second-language classes at the jail since July 2014, according to Hallock.
She is also an associate faculty member at Saddleback College, according to the Mission Viejo college’s website, and has her own website, The Noosha Collection, which can be found at noosharavaghi.com.
Ravaghi was booked on suspicion of being an accessory to a felony, Hallock said. She is tentatively expected to appear in court Monday. She is currently ineligible for bail, Hallock said, but authorities are expected to ask Monday that her bail be set at $500,000.
Hallock said Nayeri took her class at the jail and developed a relationship with Ravaghi, Hallock said.
“It is believed Ravaghi directly contributed to the Jan. 22 escape of the three inmates and provided critical planning tools that aided in their preparation for the escape,” Hallock said.
The exact nature of her alleged assistance was still being investigated, but she is believed to have provided information such as Google Earth maps to Nayeri — the alleged mastermind of the escape — showing aerial views of the jail, an adjacent women’s jail and an intake center. Hallock said Ravaghi has denied providing Nayeri with any tools used in the escape.
Hallock said the extent of the relationship Nayeri developed with Ravaghi was still unclear. It’s also unclear if she knew Nayeri was plotting an escape.
“We don’t have any information to determine it (the relationship) was in fact romantic,” Hallock said. “It was much closer and much more personal than it should have been.”
Nayeri and Ravaghi are both natives of Iran. Hallock said there is no information indicating the pair were acquainted before meeting in the jail class — a class Nayeri was taking even though he already spoke English. Their ultimate relationship, however, “leads us to believe she played a significant role in the planning” of the escape, Hallock said.
The three inmates disappeared from the jail early Jan. 22.
Hallock said Thursday that around 10 people have been arrested since the escape a week ago. Several other arrests — for unrelated warrants or probation issues — also took place during the manhunt.
The three inmates disappeared after a 5 a.m. body count in the jail, but they were not discovered missing until close to 9 p.m., when the second daily body count was conducted. Nayeri had been in custody since September 2014, Tieu since October 2013 and Duong since December.
Hutchens said on Wednesday that she suspects Nayeri was the “mastermind” of the breakout based on his military training in the U.S. Armed Forces.
The search for the escaped inmates focused heavily on a Vietnamese gang active in Westminster and Garden Grove. Hallock said there may also be connections between the escapees and Vietnamese organized crime.
On Tuesday, the Orange County Board of Supervisors quadrupled the reward for information that leads to the inmates’ recapture, boosting it to $200,000. The FBI and U.S. Marshals Service pledged the initial $50,000.
Nayeri is accused of participating in an attack, including torture, against a Newport Beach resident who ran a licensed marijuana dispensary in Santa Ana. Tieu faces murder and attempted murder charges in connection with a gang hit. Duong faces an attempted murder charge and was being held without bail on an immigration hold pending a possible federal deportation hearing.
Felony escape charges were filed Monday against the three inmates.
“Because they are escapers, they will be housed in a different area, in a different manner,” Hutchens said today. “We have been looking at the causes of the escape from day one. The focus shifts, continuing to look at where they system failed us. That will take some time.”
—City News Service
>> Subscribe to Times of San Diego’s free daily email newsletter! Click hereFollow Us: