Woman tipped police to jail escapees’ stolen van in SF Whole Foods parking lot – Los Angeles Times

The two Orange County jail escapees who remained at large after a daring escape eight days ago were arrested in San Francisco after a woman noticed a van matching the description of the one they allegedly stole parked in a Whole Foods Market parking lot, officials said Saturday.

Orange County Sheriff Sandra Hutchens said the woman alerted police officers, who were nearby handling an unrelated medical call.

The officers approached the van, and one of the escapees, Hossein Nayeri, ran out, she said. Police chased and quickly arrested him. When the officers went back to the van, they found the second suspect, Jonathan Tieu, hiding inside.

Hutchens said police recovered ammunition but no weapons inside the van. The pair were taken to the San Francisco police’s Park Station and will eventually be moved to the city jail. 

“I can say this morning that the entire state can breathe a sigh of relief,” the sheriff said at a noon press briefing.

The suspects were taken into custody around 8:50 a.m. near Haight and Stanyan streets in the Haight Ashbury district.

A third escapee, Bac Duong, surrendered to authorities in Santa Ana on Friday, a week after the three broke out of the Santa Ana lockup.

The arrests cap a massive manhunt for the three men, who all were charged with violent crimes.

At first, the fugitives were still believed to be in Southern California. But in the final couple of days of the hunt authorities said they received information that Nayeri, 37, and Tieu, 20, were in the Bay Area. A motel manager in San Jose told local TV stations late Friday that he recognized Tieu and said the pair might have stayed at his motel for two nights.

Duong had traveled north with the men but later returned alone to Santa Ana, where he gave himself up, according to Lt. Jeff Hallock, a spokesman for the Orange County Sheriff’s Department.

Duong, 43, surrendered to police at 11:21 a.m. Friday at a business in the 1400 block of North Harbor Boulevard after a friend called police, Santa Ana police Sgt. Don Humphrey said.

Tri Nguyen, who identified himself as an acquaintance of Duong’s, said the escapee walked into the business about 11 a.m. and told Nguyen’s girlfriend, who worked there, that he wanted to turn himself in. The woman called police, he said, and soon the business was swarming with law enforcement agents, guns drawn.

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” in turning himself in, Nguyen said. “He doesn’t have to run around anymore.” 

Duong has been cooperating with investigators, according to Hallock, though he would not say whether Duong 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 during a news briefing.

The arrests came after law enforcement made its most public show of force in the hunt for the fugitives, which had been in its second week. Armored vehicles and deputies in tactical gear descended on Westminster Avenue on Thursday night, executing a pair of search warrants that were filmed by television news cameras.

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 alleged relationship between one of the fugitives and an English-language teacher who is accused of aiding in the jailbreak.

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 in the brazen jailbreak. She will appear in court on Monday and is ineligible for bail, Hallock said.

The teacher’s arrest came as the police continued to hunt frantically for the escapees, all of whom were awaiting trial for 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 shop where he surrendered.

Duong had lived in rented rooms for about 10 years, until his recent arrest, according to Nguyen.

Duong surrendered as police continued to lean on Vietnamese criminal organizations that operate in the area. Detectives had 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. Jan. 22, 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 bedsheets 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 was 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.

Earlier in the week, police arrested several people who either knew the escapees or were members of a street gang with which Tieu is affiliated.

Ravaghi, an English-as-a-second-language teacher, met Nayeri while teaching a course at the jail, authorities said.

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 of 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, officials said, admitting that she allowed the prisoners 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, authorities said.

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