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Freedom was short-lived in these memorable Southern California jail breaks

The escape by a trio of inmates from Central Men’s Jail in Santa Ana on Friday was elaborate, to say the least.

Jonathan Tieu, 20, Bac Duong, 43, and Hossein Nayeri, 37, cut through at least four layers of steel and rebar and navigated through the jail’s plumbing system to reach the facility’s roof. From there, they rappelled down with a rope made from bedsheets and escaped.

It’s the kind of planned, detailed breakout from a correctional facility that is increasingly rare in the United States, experts say.

Far more common are escapes in which inmates quickly slip away when they are out of their cells, such as while on work details or being transferred to court or the hospital, said Anne Morrison Piehl, a professor in the Rutgers University Program in Criminal Justice.

Inmate escapes, she said, have “fallen dramatically” since the 1980s -- even as the nation’s inmate population has grown -- because newer facilities are designed with better security and because of improvements in inmate management by correctional professionals, Piehl said.

“Prisons are much safer than they used to be for both inmates and staff,” Piehl said.

Still, when it comes to Southern California jailbreaks in recent years, there have been some memorable capers:

Hacksaws and dirty laundry

A suspected murderer managed a meticulously planned escape from the Pitchess jail in Castaic in May 1997.

Robert Carrasco and three other inmates sawed through a steel lattice near an outdoor toilet in a fenced-in yard using hacksaw blades smuggled in to them in book bindings. They used a rope made out of dirty laundry to scale the 14-foot fence surrounding the yard.

They tried to use clothing to protect themselves from barbed wire at the top, but two of them cut their hands so badly they turned back. Another abandoned the plan when he saw how badly the others were injured. 

Carrasco escaped but needed sutures on his hands. He was recaptured within a day and later convicted in two murders.

Garbage truck getaway

In January 1994, maximum-security inmate Steven Brigida escaped California State Prison in Lancaster by stowing away inside a garbage truck. He was compacted into a bale of trash and dumped in a landfill in front of an oncoming tractor.

As the tractor moved closer, the driver heard a scream and slammed on his brakes. Brigida grabbed his ankle, hopped around and then rolled down the pile of trash. A manager for the dump’s operator said Brigida was lucky to have survived because the truck compresses garbage into small bales.

“The load comes out [shaped] like a loaf of bread,” Mike Muller, the manager, said at the time. “He was fortunate he was in the middle of the loaf.”

The inmate was serving a sentence of life plus eight years for attempted murder, auto theft and burglary.

It was the fourth escape within a year of the prison's opening. Two minimum-security prisoners walked away from their barracks in July 1993 and were quickly recaptured. And in October 1993, a convicted murderer scaled a block wall and two chain-link fences without being seen by guards. He was recaptured hours later.

‘Dr. Dolittle’

Hours after being convicted of attempted murder in July 2001, Kevin Jerome Pullum used a fake identification card with a photo of Eddie Murphy to easily walk out of Twin Towers Correctional Facility in downtown Los Angeles. Pullum had clipped the photo from an advertisement for the movie “Dr. Dolittle 2.”

The inmate had represented himself in court and kept on his beige trousers and flowered shirt under his blue jail uniform, somehow managing to avoid a required strip search when he returned to the jail. Pullum discarded his jail uniform on a long concrete walkway and was videotaped by security cameras waiting for an elevator in his casual attire, wearing an ID badge.

“We have videotape of him in the elevator, we have video of him in the hallway, we have video of him going through our main [security] control area, and we have video of him walking out,” then-Sheriff Lee Baca said at the time.

Pullum got lost on the elevators, stopping on the wrong floor, before walking through an employee exit unnoticed. He was recaptured more than two weeks later.

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