Five people suspected of involvement in the escape of three maximum-security jail inmates in California were arrested on Wednesday, but the fugitive prisoners – including one accused of the mutilation torture of a kidnap victim – remained at large, authorities said.
Additional arrests were expected by Thursday, as investigators continued to focus on street gang members tied to the three fugitives, Orange County Sheriff Sandra Hutchens said.
She declined to specify the alleged connection the five people arrested have to the escaped inmates or what charges they may face, but suggested they provided the fugitives with some external assistance in their escape.
“We believe they had outside help. We’re continuing to look and see if they had inside help as well,” Hutchens, whose department runs the county jail system, told a news conference.
She also said cutting tools apparently used in Friday’s breakout from the Men’s Central Jail in Santa Ana, about 30 miles southeast of Los Angeles, were believed to have been smuggled inside, though no such items have been recovered.
As of Wednesday, the inmates’ whereabouts remained unknown and there had been no reported sightings of them, despite a manhunt involving some 250 local, state and federal law enforcement officers, Hutchens said.
One of the escapees, Hossein Nayeri, 37, had been jailed in Orange County since being extradited to California from Prague in 2013 after fleeing to Iran to avoid kidnapping and torture charges. In that case, the victim was burned with a blowtorch and his penis was cut off, though he survived.
Nayeri escaped the jail five days ago with two other inmates, both reputed to be connected with Vietnamese-American street gangs: Jonathan Tieu, 20, who is charged with murder, and Bac Duong, 43, charged with attempted murder.
“He was most probably the mastermind behind this,” Hutchens said of Nayeri’s role in the escape, adding that he was considered more sophisticated than the two others. Nayeri and Tieu are both U.S. citizens, according to Hutchens. Duong is a Vietnamese national, U.S. officials said.
Authorities say the men cut through steel grating inside the jail, climbed through a plumbing conduit to the roof, then lowered themselves four floors with bedsheets to the ground, but their disappearance went unnoticed for about 16 hours.
Although the jail is located about 100 miles north of the U.S.-Mexico border, Hutchens said she doubted the escapees had made it out of the country.