Two fugitives who escaped from an Orange County jail last week are now believed to be in the San Jose area and may be headed to Fresno, authorities said Friday.
The third escapee, Bac Duong, surrendered Friday. Duong had traveled north with the men but later returned alone to Santa Ana, according to Lt. Jeff Hallock, a spokesman for the Orange County Sheriff’s Department.
Hossein Nayeri, 37, and Jonathan Tieu, 20, remain at large and are believed to be driving, and possibly living, in a white 2008 GMC Savana that was stolen in South Los Angeles the day after the jail break, Hallock said.
Nayeri grew up in the Fresno area and graduated from West Clovis High School, according to court documents and an attorney connected to one of his previous criminal cases.
Tony Botti, a spokesman for the Fresno County Sheriff’s Office, said patrol officers have been made aware that Nayeri and Tieu may be in the area and a flier with their mugshots has been distributed. The agency, however, has no information to confirm that either man is in Fresno County, Botti said.
A San Jose police spokesman referred all questions back to the Orange County Sheriff’s Department.
Television footage showed officers clad in body armor sweeping a business called Auto Electric Builders near the place where Duong surrendered. Moving with their rifles and handguns aimed, the officers could be seen peering into vehicles on the lot.
Tri Nguyen, a friend of the business owner, said Duong walked into the business about 11 a.m. and told Nguyen’s girlfriend, who worked there, that he wanted to turn himself in. The girlfriend called police, and soon, the business was swarmed by authorities, he said.
Nguyen and his girlfriend had known Duong for many years before he went to jail, Nguyen said.
“I feel good for him because he did the right thing,” Nguyen said. “He doesn’t have to run around anymore."
Duong has been cooperating with investigators, but Hallock would not say if he tipped police off to Nayeri and Tieu’s whereabouts.
“We are coming after you … we will take you back into custody,” Hallock said, addressing the remaining fugitives directly.
Police believe the men are wearing civilian clothes rather than prison jumpsuits.
The searches, which focused on a residence and a warehouse, did not result in any arrests, Hallock said.
Officials also revealed new details about the relationship between one of the fugitives and an English-language teacher who is accused of aiding in the jail break.
The teacher, 44-year-old Nooshafarin Ravaghi, exchanged handwritten letters with Nayeri, and formed a bond with him that was “much closer and much more personal than it should have been,” Hallock said.
Ravaghi is being held on suspicion of being an accessory to a brazen jailbreak plot that had left police scrambling to find the three men for the last eight days. She will appear in court on Monday and is currently ineligible for bail, Hallock said.
The teacher’s arrest came as police continued to hunt frantically for the escapees, all of whom were awaiting trial in violent crimes ranging from torture and kidnapping to murder.
Duong looked scared and sickly when he entered the Santa Ana auto body shop where he surrendered, witnesses said. Wearing a white shirt and jeans, with his hair shaved into a buzz cut, Duong “did not look anything like his picture,” on the wanted posters, said Tim Tran, the owner of the auto body shop.
He had rented rooms for about 10 years, until his recent arrest, according to Tri Nguyen.
Duong surrendered as police continued to lean on Vietnamese criminal organizations that operate in the area. Detectives have filed dozens of search warrants and arrested several members of a gang Tieu was affiliated with in recent days.
The trio escaped from the Santa Ana lockup sometime after 5 a.m., cutting through four layers of steel, metal and rebar as they moved through the jail’s plumbing tunnels and an air duct. They ascended to the roof, one floor above the dormitory area where they had been housed, and used a rope of knotted bed sheets and cloth to rappel down the side of the building.
The escape went undetected for at least 16 hours, and the Orange County Sheriff’s Department has come under fire for allowing the escapees to gain such a head start.
As the manhunt entered its eighth day, police seemed to be splitting their focus between Nayeri’s relationship with Ravaghi and Tieu and Duong’s connections to the local Vietnamese community and organized crime.
Hallock said Friday that there is a “Vietnamese organized crime element” to the escape, but he declined to elaborate. Several people were detained at a home Thursday night during one of the searches, but they were not arrested.
Law enforcement teams converge on the Auto Electric Rebuilders shop on Harbor Boulevard in Santa Ana where O.C. jail escapee Bac Duong surrendered on Friday.(Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)
Orange County jail escapee Bac Duong on Friday surrendered at an auto shop on Harbor Boulevard in Santa Ana, where sheriff’s officials are shown.(Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)
Officers clad in body armor on Friday sweep a Santa Ana business called Auto Electric Builders, where one of the three Orange County jail escapees surrendered.(Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)
Theresa Nguyen, center, called the police at the request of Bac Duong, one of the Orange County jail escapees. Duong turned himself into authorities a week after the jailbreak.(Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)
An employee at the Auto Electric Rebuilders shop in Santa Ana looks from the window. One of the three Orange County jail escapees surrendered to authorities at the business on Friday.(Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)
Orange County sheriff’s personnel take position in a hotel next to the Auto Electric Rebuilders shop in Santa Ana, where jail escapee Bac Duong surrendered on Friday.(Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)
Mechanics and employees at the Auto Electric Rebuilders shop in Santa Ana go to a safe place while law enforcement officials search for other jail escapees. Bac Duong, one of the three inmates who escaped, surrendered to authorities at the business on Friday.(Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)
Law enforcement teams converge on the Auto Electric Rebuilders shop in Santa Ana after O.C. jail escapee Bac Duong surrendered to officials there Friday.(Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)
An Orange County sheriff’s K-9 deputy looks for other jail escapees in the parking lot of the Pueblo Motel in Santa Ana. One of the three imates who escaped last week turned himself in to authorities on Friday.(Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)
Law enforcement teams converge on the Auto Electric Rebuilders shop in Santa Ana after jail escapee Bac Duong surrendered to authorities there Friday.(Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)
Orange County Sheriff’s Lt. Jeff Hallock at press conference after Bac Duong turned himself in. The other two escapees are now believed to be in the San Jose area and may be headed to Fresno, authorities said.
(Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times)
The inmates who escaped are, from left, Hossein Nayeri, 37, who is charged with kidnapping and torture; Jonathan Tieu, 20, who is charged with murder; and Bac Duong, 43, who is charged with attempted murder. Duong turned himself in to authorities on Friday. The other two remain at large.(Orange County Sheriff’s Department)
Orange County sheriff’s deputies search for clues Saturday at the Central Men’s Jail in Santa Ana, where three inmates went missing. “This appears to be a very sophisticated operation,” Sheriff Sandra Hutchens said of the escape.(Kevin Warn / Associated Press)
The inmates may have removed razor wire from a parapet, center rear, and used a rope-like line, right, to repel to the ground during their Jan. 22 escape.(Orange County Sheriff’s Department)
Orange County sheriff’s deputies and a search dog look for the escaped inmates early Saturday.(Kevin Warn / Associated Press)
The Central Men’s Jail in Santa Ana, built in 1968, houses more than 900 inmates.(Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)
Officials from the Orange County Sheriff’s Department appealed Monday to the public for any leads on the whereabouts of three dangerous escapees from the Orange County Jail.(Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)
The Orange County Sheriff’s Department has drawn criticism over the escape of three inmates from its largest lockup. Above, the agency’s Raymond Cheung puts up a display before a news conference Tuesday.
An Orange County sheriff’s investigator checks the roof of Men’s Central Jail in Santa Ana, where three inmates escaped with the help of knotted bedsheets.
Earlier in the week, police arrested several people who either knew the escapees or were members of a street gang that Tieu is affiliated with.
The department has not identified the gang, but court records show that Tieu was a member of the Tiny Rascals -- a large Southeast Asian gang known to operate in Orange County and Long Beach. The gang was charged in a 2011 murder.
Ravaghi, a English-as-a-Second-Language teacher, met Nayeri while teaching a course at the jail.
Police have said she developed a bond with Nayeri that went beyond a student-teacher dynamic. The two had exchanged letters outside of class, some which were mailed from outside the jail, Hallock said.
“The correspondence that they had in writing was of a personal nature,” he said of the handwritten letters.
Ravaghi has cooperated with police, admitting she allowed the inmates to view a map, possibly a printed Google Earth image of the jail, which would have allowed them to see the roof of the facility. She has denied giving the men the cutting tools they would have needed to actually reach the roof.
Earlier this week, Sheriff Sandra Hutchens described Nayeri as the “mastermind” of the escape.
Ravaghi began teaching English courses in Orange County’s jails in July 2014, Hallock said. Nayeri speaks English fluently, so it was not clear why he attended the class.
“That is our concern. Mr. Nayeri speaks English. ... Why then was he attending that class? It is very much a concern of ours. It leads us to believe she played a significant role in the planning,” Hallock said.
She is no longer employed by the school system, according to a district spokeswoman. Ravaghi was not fired, according to the spokeswoman, who said her assignment at the jail was set to expire Jan. 25.
Ravaghi grew up in Tehran and spent her formative years traveling with her father, according to her personal website. She studied French literature overseas and was fluent in several languages before she moved to California in 1997.
Asked if the relationship between the two was romantic, Hallock said that remains a possibility.
A former classmate of Ravaghi’s described her as a sweet, loyal and impressionable girl who didn’t have many friends.
“She was quiet. She didn’t have that many close friends and she never talked about her family much,” said Sepideh Safavi, who attended middle school with Ravaghi in Tehran.
Safavi, 46, said other students would bully Ravaghi and tease her. She said she lost contact with the teacher for more than a decade, but reconnected with her on Facebook.
“This is a shock. I’m still trying to understand what’s going on. It’s just impossible,” Safavi said. “I don’t know how much she changed after middle school, but from what I know, she was never looking for trouble. She wanted to be helpful.”
Ravaghi seemed lonely, she added. Her Facebook posts were never about family. She didn’t have siblings and never spoke of her mother, Safavi said.
Ever since she heard about Ravaghi’s arrest, Safavi said, she’s had dreams about her old classmate. She wonders how this could have happened to “Nooshin,” her nickname for Ravaghi.
“Her, of all people?” Safavi said. “If any of my other friends got caught up in this I would believe it. But her? I can’t believe it.”
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