Three inmates who remained on the loose Monday after breaking out of a maximum-security jail in Santa Ana late last week may still be in the area and are believed to be armed, according to officials with the Orange County Sheriff’s Department.
Jonathan Tieu, Hossein Nayeri, and Bac Duong, escaped from the county’s Men’s Jail on Friday, implementing an elaborate and “sophisticated” plan that was possibly hatched over a period of months, sheriff’s officials said.
They cut through steel bars in a cell, then made their way through plumbing tunnels and on to the roof before rappelling down the side of the multistory facility using a “makeshift rope” made from sheets and possibly clothing.
A combined reward offered by the FBI and U.S. Marshals increased to up to $50,000 on Sunday as authorities pleaded for the public’s help in helping them locate the three escapees.
“Presume that they are armed, and so do not approach them,” Sheriff Sandra Hutchens warned during a Sunday morning news conference. “We are asking for the public’s assistance by making phone calls, calling 911 to provide us information.”
As of Monday morning, Lt. Jeff Hallock, a spokesman for the Sheriff’s Department, told KTLA in an interview the three men have not been spotted since escaping.
“Nothing to indicate any sightings at all, our investigators are continuing to work 24/7, they worked overnight following up on leads and some intelligence that we have,” Hallock said.
They were last seen at 5 a.m. on Friday and authorities believed the breakout occurred a short time after that.
They weren’t discovered missing, however, until 9 p.m., following the second physical inmate count of the day, which should’ve happened at 8 p.m. but was delayed due to a “disturbance,” Hallock told reporters at a Monday morning news conference.
The incident left a deputy injured, and authorities suspect it was staged to delay the count, Hallock said.
Authorities do not suspect that the men have left the country, and they said it was possible the escapees were still “embedded” in the area and in hiding.
By Sunday, the department had received a number of “very good tips” from the public, and that investigators were on the “right path,” according to Hutchens.
A separate investigation was underway into the circumstances of the actual escape, and whether they had any outside help, she said. It was also not known whether they fled on foot or with the aid of a vehicle.
The men have all been accused of violent crimes: Tieu faced a murder charge, while Duong was suspected in an attempted murder, according to the Sheriff’s Department.
Nayeri had a number of charges against him, including kidnapping, aggravated mayhem and torture stemming from a 2012 case in which he and two other men were accused of burning a man with a blowtorch, cutting the victim’s penis off and pouring bleach on him, sheriff’s Lt. Dave Sawyer said at the Monday news conference. The man was then dumped in the desert and left to die, but survived.
Tieu, who was incarcerated in connection with a homicide, was a documented Vietnamese gang member, said Sawyer, declining to name the gang.
Duong, described as an “extremely violent individual,” had a number of weapons violation charges against him, in addition to the attempted murder one, according to Sawyer. He also had Vietnamese gang affiliations.
“Just based on their charges, and we’ve said all along, they’re very dangerous inmates … they’re three very dangerous individuals, they’re on the loose and we’re looking for them.”
A separate investigation was underway into the circumstances of the actual escape, and whether they had any outside help, Hutchens said. It was also not known whether they fled on foot or with the aid of a vehicle.
Anyone with information is urged to call the Sheriff’s Department at 714-647-7000. Anonymous tips can also be left calling O.C. Crime Stoppers at 855-847-6227.