Three inmates planned their escape from a California jail for at least six months, then abducted a taxi driver and drove to Northern California, where two of the fugitives argued about killing him, authorities said Monday.
Sheriff’s Capt. Jeff Hallock also said the inmates were picked up by an accomplice shortly after they escaped on Jan. 22 from Central Men’s Jail in Orange County.
Later that day, inmate Hossein Nayeri held a gun on a taxi driver, who spent two nights with the fugitives in Southern California before they stole a van and drove north, Hallock said.
Nayeri and inmate Bac Duong then had a physical fight in an Alameda hotel room over whether to kill the taxi driver, he said. Sheriff’s officials believe Nayeri is the one who wanted to kill the driver, Hallock said.
Duong and the taxi driver returned the next day to Santa Ana, where Duong later surrendered.
Earlier Monday, prosecutors said a teacher who was arrested in connection with the escape would be released due to insufficient evidence to charge her with any crime.
Prosecutors have requested that the county Sheriff’s Department conduct further investigation of Nooshafarin Ravaghi, 44, who teaches English as a second language to jail inmates, District Attorney Tony Rackauckas said.
Sheriff Sandra Hutchens later told reporters that investigators still believe Ravaghi was involved.
Rackauckas also announced the arrest of Lac Ba Nguyen on suspicion of sending into prison an article useful for an escape. Prosecutors didn’t elaborate on the article or say how it might have been used.
Nguyen provided the inmates with “things that facilitated the escape” and picked them up shortly after they escaped, Hallock said.
Nayeri, 37, Duong, 43, and Jonathan Tieu, 20, escaped Central Men’s Jail. Duong turned himself in Friday and the other two were arrested in San Francisco on Saturday.
The district attorney said Ravaghi was continuing to cooperate and that steps were being taken to ensure she remains in the jurisdiction after her release.
Nguyen is due in court Feb. 22. It’s not immediately known if he has an attorney.
With all three inmates back in custody, authorities were examining how they carried out the jailbreak and what they did during their week on the run.
The sheriff vowed over the weekend to fix the security lapses that allowed the escape.
The men sawed, crawled and climbed their way out of the maximum-security jail and used a rope made of bedsheets to rappel four stories to the ground.
The trio then spent several days in Rosemead, a Los Angeles suburb, where they held the cab driver at gunpoint, Hallock said.
The three then drove to Northern California in a stolen van and the taxi, taking the cabbie with them, he said.
Duong surrendered on Friday at an auto repair shop in Santa Ana just a few miles from the jail. After dropping Duong off, the cabbie immediately reported what had happened.
Nayeri and Tieu were arrested Saturday after a civilian flagged down officers near San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park and pointed out a parked van that looked like one believed stolen by the inmates after the escape.
The three inmates did not know each other before being housed in the Orange County jail. They were awaiting trial on charges involving violent crimes.
Duong and Tieu have ties to gangs that operate in the shadows of Orange County’s thriving Vietnamese community.
While behind bars, the three were housed together in a large jail module that held 65 other men, about half of whom were in custody for violent felonies.
Ravaghi had been booked on suspicion of being an accessory to a felony. The Sheriff’s Department had said she provided Nayeri a paper copy of a Google Earth map that showed an aerial view of the entire jail compound.
Nayeri is a former Marine who grew up in the Fresno area, and authorities say it’s unclear why as an English speaker he was in her class that teaches English as a second language.
Built in 1968, the jail that housed the men holds about 900 inmates. It was the first breakout from the facility in nearly 30 years.