Homeless man gets $100,000 check for spotting O.C. jail escapees

A homeless man from San Francisco was handed a $100,000 check Thursday as reward for helping lead authorities to the capture of two Orange County jail escapees.

Orange County Supervisor Todd Spitzer flew to the Bay Area to hand-deliver the check and have lunch with tipster and self-described news junkie Matthew Hay-Chapman, 55. 

Spitzer, who was accompanied by two detectives from the Orange County Sheriff's Department, said he met with Hay-Chapman at an unnamed bank at noon, making sure the tipster deposited the money after signing county paperwork. 

Four people split a total of $150,000 in reward cash for providing information crucial to the capture of inmates Bac Duong, Hossein Nayeri and Jonathan Tieu. The men escaped from the Central Men's Jail in Santa Ana on Jan. 22, triggering a statewide hunt.

Duong surrendered to police in Santa Ana on Jan. 29. A day later, Hay-Chapman spotted the other two men in San Francisco.

On Thursday, Hay-Chapman walked his visitors through the chain of events that day, Jan. 30.

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The tipster said he was standing at a newspaper stand when he spotted a man resembling Nayeri. The man had just exited a white van that looked like the 2008 GMC Savana that the escapees stole from a Craigslist seller and was shown on news broadcasts. 

Hay-Chapman said the van was parked at a Whole Foods market near the corner of Haight and Stanyan streets, facing Golden Gate Park. Nayeri walked to a McDonald's where he pretended to read the bus timetables outside the restaurant, he told Spitzer, then entered to buy a cup of coffee. 

Hay-Chapman flagged down a patrol car that happened to be nearby while responding to a medical call. Officers informed him that they were busy and called headquarters for help, while the tipster said a prayer for a man hurt on the ground, according to Spitzer. Nayeri ran off into the park when more police arrived, as the tipster pointed out the van.

Officers ran after and captured Nayeri, while Tieu was found hiding inside the van. 

"So many people would have walked away. So many people would not have gotten involved. But his father was in the military and he mentioned to me he felt a duty to report what he saw," Spitzer said of Hay-Chapman. "What he did was amazing." 

Hay-Chapman, who is divorced, plans to use some of the money to help an adult son and daughter, according to Spitzer, who had invited the tipster to attend a supervisors' meeting this last Tuesday to watch the board vote on the reward fund.

The other three recipients include two Target store employees who monitored the inmates' "suspicious" activities when they entered the shop in Rosemead, and the man who had advertised his van for sale on Craigslist. 

Spitzer, who ate a barbecue lunch with Hay-Chapman, said the tipster used to work as a locksmith but lost his job after a back injury: "He seems to be a really, really good soul who had a streak of bad luck. He's been following this whole thing like a hawk. He knew every detail from the board meeting, how we voted, the issues we talked about. I hope we can help him access more benefits -- Social Security or healthcare."

Hay-Chapman stands to gain even more, according to Spitzer, with a $50,000 combined reward from the FBI and the U.S. Marshall's office still undecided.


Twitter: @newsterrier


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