1 of 3 Orange County jail escapees surrenders to police – Los Angeles Times

One of three men who escaped from an Orange County jailhouse last week surrendered to police on Friday, law enforcement officials said.

Bac Duong, 43, turned himself in to Santa Ana police at 11:21 a.m. in the 1400 block of North Harbor Boulevard after a friend or acquaintance called police, said Santa Ana Police Sgt. Don Humphrey.

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 around 11 a.m. and told his girlfriend, who worked there, that he wanted to turn himself in. The girlfriend called police, and very soon after, 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.” 

During a short news briefing, Orange County Sheriff Sandra Hutchens said only that Duong reached out to a civilian and said he wanted to turn himself in. 

The arrest comes after a pair of police searches in the Little Saigon section of Orange County late Thursday were connected to the hunt for the fugitives.

The searches, which focused on a residence and a warehouse, did not result in any arrests, according to Lt. Jeffrey Hallock, a spokesman for the Orange County Sheriff’s Department.

At the same time, officials revealed new allegations about letters exchanged between one of the escapees and a jail teacher arrested on suspicion of helping with the jailbreak.

The teacher who was arrested as part of the sprawling manhunt for the escapees exchanged handwritten letters with one of the fugitives and formed a bond with the man that was “much closer and much more personal than it should have been,” Hallock said.

Nooshafarin Ravaghi, 44, is being held on suspicion of being an accessory to a brazen jailbreak plot that had left police scrambling to find Duong, Hossein Nayeri and Jonathan Tieu for the last eight days.

Ravaghi will appear in court on Monday, and is currently ineligible for bail, Hallock said.

Ravaghi’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.

Prior to Duong’s arrest, investigators said they believed the men were living out of a white GMC Savanna van that was stolen in South Los Angeles the day after the escape. A person matching Duong’s description was suspected of stealing the car, police said.

A search for the vehicle rocked the Little Saigon neighborhood Thursday night, as dozens of S.W.A.T.-gear-clad deputies hung from armored vehicles during law enforcement operations in Westminster and Garden Grove.

The searches, which took place at a residence and a warehouse, did not result in any arrests, Hallock said.

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 makeshift 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 declined to elaborate. Several people were detained at a home Thursday night during one of the searches, but they were not arrested.

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 one of several members of the Tiny Rascals — a large Southeast Asian gang known to operate in Orange County and Long Beach — 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, Hutchens described Nayeri as the “mastermind” of the escape.

Ravaghi was being held on suspicion of being an accessory to the escape, and is ineligible for bail, Hallock said. She will appear in court Monday, and Hallock said investigators will ask that she be held in lieu of $500,000 bail.

Ravaghi began teaching ESL 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.

If Nayeri had asked Ravaghi to provide him any information, like the maps, she should have notified jail staff immediately. Ravaghi, who taught in the jails as part of the Rancho Santiago Community College District’s inmate education program,  had passed a background check and attended a three-hour course warning her that inmates would attempt to manipulate civiliains, 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 on Jan. 25.


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