(FOX 11 / CNS) - Planning for the brazen escape of three inmates from the Central Men's Jail in Santa Ana began about six months ago, and their eight days on the lam including the kidnapping of a cab driver and a fight between two of the escapees about whether to kill their hostage, sheriff's officials said Monday.
Orange County Sheriff's Department Capt. Jeff Hallock said investigators suspect the plan began to take shape in July.
After they broke out around Jan. 22 following a 5 a.m. inmate count, they were picked up by an associate and driven to Westminster, and they began circulating among homes in Santa Ana and Huntington Beach, Hallock said. It wasn't until about 9 p.m. that day that guards realized Hossein Nayeri, 37, Bac Duong, 43, and Jonathan Tieu, 20, were gone.
That night, they hailed a cab to take them to a Rosemead Target store, and the trio wound up taking the driver hostage at gunpoint.
On Jan. 23, sheriff's officials began asking the public for help tracking down the inmates, who had taken up refuge for at the Flamingo Inn in Rosemead. That same day, Duong responded to an ad on Craigslist for a white van and convinced the driver to let him take it out for a spin in South Los Angeles, Hallock said. Duong wound up stealing the van, he said. The FBI offered a $20,000 reward for information leading to the capture of the inmates.
On Jan. 24, Sheriff Sandra Hutchens appealed to the public for help, warning residents the men were considered "armed and dangerous,'' and the U.S. Marshals Office added $30,000 to the reward kitty, bringing the total to $50,000.
The Orange County Board of Supervisors on Jan. 26 raised the reward to $200,000. Also on Jan. 26, the fugitives took both the van, the carjacked cab and cab driver to San Jose, but not before Tieu mailed a letter to a family member from Garden Grove as a "diversionary tactic'' to make investigators think the trio were still in Orange County, while they were actually heading north, Hallock said.
On Jan. 27, the three -- with the kidnapped cabbie -- remained in San Jose. The escapees dined at a Lee's Sandwich shop and spent the night at the Alameda Motel. That same day, sheriff's officials rounded up five suspects somehow related to the inmates, mostly on allegations of probation violations.
The next big break came Jan. 28, when Nooshafarin Ravaghi, an English-as-a-second-language teacher at the jail, was arrested and booked on suspicion of providing Google Earth images of the jail to the inmates, Hallock said. Sheriff's officials also released information about the stolen GMC van and alerted the public that the three were still using it as transportation and perhaps lodging.
Back in San Jose, a fight broke out at the Alameda Motel between Nayeri -- who wanted to kill the cab driver and bury his body -- and Duong, who objected to the plan.
"He (Duong) certainly gave information he was trying to protect the driver,'' Hutchens said.
When Nayeri and Tieu left the Alameda Motel on Jan. 28 to get the van's windows tinted, Duong had the cab driver bring him back to the Santa Ana area. The driver was freed, and Duong on Friday walked into a Santa Ana store where he spoke with a friend or relative and announced his intention to surrender, Hallock said. He was arrested that day.
Nayeri and Tieu, meanwhile, drove the van further north on Thursday night, he said.
On Saturday, Jan. 30, a man in San Francisco recognized the van and alerted police, who found it in a Whole Foods parking lot, Hallock said. Nayeri was caught trying to run away and Tieu was hiding in the van, Hallock said.
Nayeri and Tieu were brought back to Orange County early Jan. 31. Investigators found gunshot rounds in the van, but have not recovered the weapon used to kidnap the taxi driver, Hutchens said.
Detectives suspect Nayeri was the "mastermind'' behind the escape "based on his background'' and that he had already successfully avoided an arrest following a police chase in Newport Beach. He managed to get out of the country to Iran, where authorities used a complex ruse to lure him out of so they could arrest him in Prague, where extradition treaties make it easier to get a defendant back to the United States.
It's not entirely clear how the three got money, but investigators suspect they leaned on various associates in Rosemead for assistance. The city has a high number of residents of Vietnamese descent -- such as Tieu and Duong, Hallock said.
The three made some attempt to disguise their appearance, Hallock said.
What was also not clear was what sort of tools they used to cut through steel bars to get out of the jail. Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas indicated that Loc Ba Nguyen was expected to be charged with
smuggling in tools and other materials used in the escape, but Hutchens and Hallock would not confirm whether Nguyen supplied the trio with cutting tools.
Nguyen was arrested a day after the escape and he posted bail the following day, Hallock said.