Dogs Help Collar Burglary Suspects : Crime: Four men and a teen-ager in alleged theft from a Laotian immigrant in Santa Ana. Police dogs used in the four-hour manhunt found 3 suspects in back yard doghouses.


After blocking off a neighborhood and searching for four hours Tuesday, police arrested four men and a teen-ager suspected of invading the home of a 56-year-old Laotian immigrant and stealing about $1,000 in cash, some electronic equipment and a bag of soup noodles, authorities said.

Three of the five men arrested required medical treatment after they were bitten by a Santa Ana police dog named Rex, one of two canines brought in to assist in Tuesday's manhunt. The three suspects, who were treated and released from United Western Medical Center-Santa Ana, tried to hide in two doghouses but were dragged out by the police dog.

Booked on suspicion of armed robbery, burglary and possession of a stolen vehicle were Hai Ngoc Nguyen, 20, of Riverside; Nhan Dina Nguyen, 22, of Van Nuys; Lethuyen The Ngo, 18, of Thousand Oaks; and Hung Tran, 18, of Hawthorne. Authorities would not release the identity of the fifth suspect, a 16-year-old, because he is a juvenile.

Santa Ana Police Lt. Robert Helton said investigators are checking with other law enforcement agencies to determine if the suspects are connected to any of several Vietnamese gangs known to operate in Southern California. The gangs prey upon Asian immigrants who commonly keep cash in their homes and are sometimes reluctant to call police for help.

The Santa Ana incident began shortly after 8:30 a.m. when the victim, Bouata Thinouwong, was working in the back yard garden of her home in the 3300 block of West Borchard Avenue, police said.

Speaking through an interpreter after her ordeal, Thinouwong said that when her dog began to bark for no apparent reason, she became suspicious and walked back to the house. But when she reached her back door, she was confronted by one of the suspects standing inside. The suspect waved a gun at her through the screen and then locked the door, she said.

The woman said she then ran to a neighbor's house to call police.

But a neighbor who had seen the suspects enter the house with their guns drawn had already dialed 911, Helton said.

The first officers to arrive reported seeing four of the suspects scatter in various directions, Helton said.

The fifth suspect was sitting behind the wheel of a silver-colored Toyota van that was reported stolen in Long Beach on Monday, Sgt. Dick Faust said.

Helton said police arrested the driver of the vehicle and another suspect without incident.

To search for the other suspects, about 20 officers fanned out and set up a perimeter blocking off portions of Mohawk, Shawnee and Arapaho drives and Borchard Avenue. Police also ordered residents to remain in their houses until they caught the men.

"They told us to just stay in the house . . . keep the doors locked and . . . that we shouldn't leave," Pedro Bustamante said in a telephone interview during the ordeal. "There are (cops) all over the place."

After scouring the neighborhood without success, police called in the canine unit.

Shortly before midday, Rex found two of the men, who had crawled into a back yard doghouse--alongside the dog that lived there, Faust said.

Rex found the last suspect crouched in another doghouse behind a nearby residence on Shawnee Drive. Helton said the suspects--Ngo, Tran and the juvenile--emerged from the doghouses bleeding. Rex bit one suspect on his leg, another on the arm and another on the head. Helton said that none of the injuries was serious.

Helton said police recovered a revolver and a .38-caliber semiautomatic handgun near the stolen van. Faust said the men apparently threw down their weapons before fleeing.

Police also recovered the stolen cash and electronic equipment, Helton said.

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