Three inmates made a daring escape from a Southern California maximum-security jail by cutting through half-inch steel bars and rappelling from the roof by a makeshift rope, authorities said Saturday as the manhunt for the men continued.
“It was very well-thought-out and planned,” Orange County sheriff’s Lt. Jeff Hallock said at a news conference.
The last time the inmates were seen was at 5 a.m. Friday at the Orange County Men’s Jail in Santa Ana, about 40 miles southeast of Los Angeles. They could have made the escape any time between then and late Friday night, according to authorities.
“The inmates cut through half-inch steel bars to facilitate their escape,” Hallock said.
The men, last seen wearing orange jumpsuits, also had to cut through plumbing tunnels and finally made it to an unguarded area of the roof where they rappelled down to the ground by way of a makeshift rope, Hallock said.
Hallock said the inmates were discovered missing at 8 p.m. after a disturbance in the jail may have given them enough time to start the escape. Hallock said it slightly delayed the discovery that the men were missing. According to the Orange County Register, the men were confirmed missing by midnight.
Some “small pieces of evidence” have been collected and investigators will be looking at surveillance camera footage, Hallock said.
Earlier, Hallock said it was the first escape from the 900-inmate facility in 20 years.
Investigators were working around the clock with other county agencies, the FBI and U.S. marshals, Sheriff Sandra Hutchens said in a statement.
“I am confident that this collaborative effort will result in returning these inmates to where they belong- behind bars,” she said.
The inmates on the run include Jonathan Tieu, 20, who had been held on $1 million bail since October 20 on charges of murder, attempted murder and shooting at an inhabited dwelling. His case is believed to be gang-related.
Hossein Nayeri, 37, had been held without bond since September 2014 on charges of kidnapping, torture, aggravated mayhem and burglary. Nayeri and three other men were accused of kidnapping a California marijuana dispensary owner in 2012. They drove the dispensary owner to a desert spot where they believed he had hidden money and then cut off his penis, authorities said.
After the crime, Nayeri fled the U.S. to his native Iran, where he remained for several months. He was arrested in Prague in November 2014 while changing flights from Iran to Spain to visit family.
The third inmate who escaped with Tieu and Nayeri was Bac Duong. The 43-year-old man was being held without bond since last month on charges of murder, assault with a deadly weapon, shooting at an inhabited dwelling, being an ex-felon in possession of a firearm and other charges.
It was unclear whether the men were armed but they should be considered very dangerous, Hallock said.
“I think the public should expect the worst if they’re encountering them and call 911 and allow the professionals to respond,” Hallock said.
The men had no other prior link other than housing arrangements at the jail, according to the Register. The paper reported the men were living in Mod F of the housing complex at the jail, which they shared with 65 other prisoners.
The FBI has announced a reward of up to $20,000 for information leading to the prisoners’ capture.
Anyone with information about the case was urged to call the Sheriff’s Department at 714-647-7000.
Anonymous tips may also be submitted to O.C. Crime Stoppers at 855-847-6227 or via the website occrimestoppers.org.