5 arrests in search for escaped California inmates; escapees still free

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ABC News' Brandi Hitt has the details. (WABC)

The investigation of a daring California jail break has led to the arrests of five people, with more expected soon, but the three inmates who escaped remain at large, the Orange County sheriff said Wednesday.

Sheriff Sandra Hutchens said she definitely believes the inmates had assistance from the outside, and that the investigation is focusing on a local Vietnamese gang.

"They had to have had help," Hutchens said.

Those in custody - none of whom are jail employees or insiders - may not all have had direct ties to the escape, but the investigation of the breakout led to their arrest, sheriff's spokesman Lt. Jeff Hallock said.

Hutchens would only say they had "some connection" to the inmates, adding that providing more information might tip off the inmates to details of the search. The department is still investigating whether the men had help on the inside, she said.

The men would have needed powerful cutting tools that would not have been available to them inside to get through thick metal, and investigators are looking into how they could have obtained them, Hutchens said.

"We don't know what they are, but we know that they made a clean cut," Hutchens said of the tools the men used. "It's nothing we think could have occurred with a jail-made shank."

The jail has revised its headcount procedures because it took so long to discover the men were missing. The changes include requiring deputies to call and confirm that inmates who are in court, getting medical help or otherwise out of the jail are actually where they are supposed to be.

The men escaped Friday from the jail after cutting a hole in a metal grate then crawling through plumbing tunnels and onto the roof. They pushed aside barbed wire and rappelled down using a rope made of bed sheets.

"It's every sheriff's nightmare," Hutchens said. "You never want to have an escape from any jail. They do happen. And you certainly don't want maximum security prisoners who are a danger to the public to get out of your jail. So it's not a good day."

Jonathan Tieu, Bac Duong and Hossein Nayeri had all been awaiting trial for unrelated violent crimes.

Nayeri was probably the mastermind of the escape, Hutchens said, saying his sophistication, his military past and a history of fleeing from law enforcement have investigators focusing on his role.

The search, however, has centered on a Vietnamese gang based in nearby Westminster and Garden Grove, where the other two inmates have ties.

The sheriff appeared on television and radio shows in Orange County's Little Saigon early in the day to ask for help from the community.
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