March 18, 2016
The prison break was deceptively simple in its execution yet breathtaking in its result. Three prisoners housed in a maximum-security jail in Santa Ana, CA, Hossein Nayeri, Janathan Tieu and Bac Duong, made their way through plumbing tunnels and air vents to freedom at 5 a.m. on January 22nd. What ensued was a weeklong manhunt that saw law enforcement befuddled almost every step of the way. Indeed, it wound up taking a lucky tip as well as a phone call from one of the inmates to bring all three back to justice.
Here are the particulars of the escape that rocked a state.
The bad guys were one step ahead of the cops
Prison guards didn’t discover the men were missing until 16 hours after they’d broken out. The escapees were able to build up a bankroll and a massive head start thanks to help from friends as well as the Vietnamese community. Over the course of a week they managed to travel from Southern California all the way to the Bay Area, and it wasn’t until someone spotted a stolen van in a whole foods parking lot that the manhunt came to an end.
Things almost turned fatal
It’s difficult to view the convicts as folk heroes when taking into account their lengthy criminal histories—as well as the fact they abducted a cab driver. Authorities have refused to identify the driver, but he was held as a hostage after the three men hailed his cab while on their way to Rosemead. Ultimately the cabbie’s life was spared when Duong freed him after abandoning his two criminal cohorts. Later Duong went to a friend’s auto-body shop and turned himself in to authorities.
The Sheriff’s Department has egg on its face
In the case of the Santa Ana escape, the Orange County Sheriff’s Department was left dumbfounded after three dangerous inmates were allowed a 16-hour head start. The person who bears ultimate responsibility for this top-down institutional failure is Orange County Sheriff Sandra Hutchens. To her credit, she acknowledged the lapses and errors that allowed the inmates to remain free for so long. That said, the high-profile nature of the escape has cast increased scrutiny on lax jail practices, such as only physically counting inmates twice each day. Had various administrative checks been conducted on the prisoners—as is required—the inmates might not have had such a long head start.
So that closes the books on the three escaped cons from Santa Ana. But will this lead to a major shakeup at the Orange County Sheriff’s Department? And will other inmates take a page and bust out as well?