California escapees kidnapped cab driver, shopped at Target before capture

Story highlights

  • Escapees kidnapped a cab driver and fought about whether to kill him, authorities say
  • The men also went to Target, a hair salon and the post office, according to investigators
  • The cab driver was not injured and is helping the investigation

(CNN)In the days before they were captured, investigators say prisoners who escaped from a Southern California jail shopped at Target, went to a hair salon to change their looks, took a taxi driver hostage and got in a physical fight over whether to kill him.

Authorities are still piecing together how three jail inmates accused of violent crimes managed to escape from the maximum-security Orange County men's jail last month. But a timeline released by investigators Monday reveals new details about what the escapees did as they evaded capture for days.
Now that they're back behind bars, the inmates are giving some details, but not the entire story, Orange County Sheriff's spokesman Capt. Jeff Hallock said.
    Their life on the lam was a mix of mundane and menacing, according to an account Hallock shared with reporters Monday.
    It started when they rappelled off the roof of the jail and ended more than a week later when one of the fugitives turned himself in and police found the other two hiding out in the parking lot of a San Francisco Whole Foods.

    Day 1: The escape

    It was an escape so well thought out that investigators think it took six months of planning, Hallock said. They started plotting in July 2015, he said. For months, 20-year-old Jonathan Tieu, 37-year-old Hossein Nayeri and 43-year-old Bac Tien Duong had been living together in Mod F-28 of the jail.
    On January 22, 2016, they put their plan in motion, thanks in part to help they allegedly got from a woman who taught English as a second language classes at the jail, Hallock said.
    The inmates slipped out unnoticed around 5 a.m. that day, just after deputies finished their morning count of prisoners. After they cut through steel, crawled through plumbing tunnels and used linens to rappel off the roof of the jail, an accomplice picked them up on a street corner in Santa Ana, California, Hallock said.
    For hours, Hallock said, they moved between houses in several cities before calling for a taxi, which took them to a Target store in Rosemead, California. There, they went shopping, Hallock said. It's unclear where they got money for their purchases.
    Later that night, the situation took a darker turn, Hallock said: "Duong puts a gun to the taxi driver's rib cage and tells him he's coming with them."
    That night, he said, they all slept at an unknown location in Los Angeles County.

    Day 2: A Craigslist ad and a hair salon visit

    A day after the jailbreak, Duong answered an ad on Craigslist and arranged to test drive a white GMC utility van in Los Angeles, Hallock said. Then, he stole the vehicle, the sheriff's spokesman alleged.
    From there, the fugitives headed to a hair salon in El Monte, California, where they "attempt to change their appearance," Hallock said.
    He didn't go into details about how they altered their look.

    Days 3-4: Hiding out at the Flamingo Inn

    Rosemead wasn't just where the fugitives spent time shopping at Target. It's also where they spent three nights at the Flamingo Inn motel, according to Hallock.
    A manager told CNN affiliate KCAL that the escapees spent three nights in Room 116 at the motel in Rosemead, California.

    Day 5: Mailing letter to mom

    The escaped inmates took an apparent detour Tuesday, driving the white van and the taxi to a post office in Garden Grove, California, Hallock said. There, Tieu mailed a letter to his mother, the sheriff's spokesman said.
    "It's important to note that it's believed the mailing of the letter is believed to be a distraction technique that was used by the escapees before they drove to Northern California," Hallock said.
    Investigators haven't revealed what the letter to Tieu's mother said.
    "They knew that potentially that letter would get to investigators," Hallock said, "and we would believe that they were still down here in the Southern California area when, in fact, they were in Northern California."

    Day 6: Fight over killing cabbie

    Inside a motel room where the escapees were staying in San Jose, California, tension grew, according to Hallock. Duong and Nayeri got into a fight at the Alameda Motel.
    "The information we have," Hallock said, "is that the fight was about whether or not to kill the taxi cab driver and bury his body."

    Day 7: Tinted windows

    As investigators released a description of the stolen white van they believed the inmates were hiding in, Nayeri and Tieu left the motel and took the van to get its windows tinted, Hallock said.
    Duong and the cab driver headed back to Rosemead, where they spent the night.

    Day 8: A surrender

    Duong headed to an auto repair shop in Santa Ana, California, where a family member called 911 and Duong surrendered to authorities.
    The cab driver wasn't injured, Hallock said. He didn't provide details about how the taxi driver was freed.
    "The cab driver is a victim, a victim of a crime, and he's continuing to provide information for us," Hallock said.

    Day 9: Foot chase at Whole Foods

    A tip from someone who spotted the van in a Whole Foods parking lot in San Francisco brought police to the scene where Nayeri and Tieu were hiding out, Hallock said.
    "A short foot pursuit with inmate Nayeri ensues and he's quickly taken into custody," Hallock said. "Tieu was found hiding in the van and was arrested."
    There were .38-caliber rounds found in the van but neither fugitive had a weapon, authorities said.

    'We're embarrassed'

    Now that they're behind bars again at the Orange County jail, the men are being kept in isolation in separate cells and have escorts with them every time they're moved. They're awaiting trials and will likely face additional charges tied to the escape.
    Before the jailbreak, Tieu was in jail on murder charges, Nayeri was in jail for allegedly torturing and kidnapping and Duong was facing attempted murder charges. Each had pleaded not guilty.
    Hallock said he couldn't reveal many details Monday about the investigation into the escape, the first at the jail since 1988.
    "We're embarrassed," he said. "We feel like we let the public down."
    Detectives are trying to determine whether anyone helped the men.
    In connection with the escape, Loc Ba Nguyen faces charges of smuggling weapons into a correctional facility, sending an article useful for escape into a prison, aiding a prisoners' escape, and the personal use of a knife, Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas said.
    A woman who taught classes in English as a second language at the jail was arrested Thursday in connection with the escape, but Orange County Prosecutor Tony Rackauckas told reporters Monday that she was being released because there is "insufficient evidence to charge her with a crime at this time."