By Tori Richards
SANTA ANA, Calif. (Reuters) - Three inmates who escaped nearly a week ago from a maximum-security jail unit in Southern California are believed to be living out of a utility van they stole two days after their breakout, a sheriff's department spokesman said on Thursday.
Lieutenant Jeff Hallock of the Orange County Sheriff's Department also said a community college instructor who taught at the jail and had befriended one of the fugitives was arrested on Thursday on suspicion of assisting in the escape by furnishing the inmates with Google Maps information.
Hallock said the teacher, Arvaghi Nooshafarian, 44, was an English-as-a-second-language teacher for the presumed mastermind of last Friday's jailhouse getaway, Hossein Nayeri, 37, who is accused of the mutilation torture of a kidnap victim in 2012.
Nooshafarian, employed by Rancho Santiago Community College District in Orange County, is one of about 10 people arrested in connection with the escape during the past two days, Hallock said.
Nayeri escaped from the Orange County Men's Central Jail in Santa Ana 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.
Hallock said it was Duong who took what was supposed to be a test drive in a utility van advertised for sale in south Los Angeles on Sunday and then never came back.
All three fugitives are believed to have remained together since escaping from the jail and have been living out of the van as they continue to elude a massive manhunt, Hallock told a news conference.
Authorities say the men made their getaway by cutting through steel grating inside the jail, climbing through a plumbing conduit to the roof and lowering themselves four floors with bedsheets to the ground; their disappearance went unnoticed for about 16 hours.
The Google Maps information the teacher provided the three men included overviews of the jail rooftop and surrounding areas, according to Hallock. He did not say exactly how the information was furnished or when.
Hallock said Nayeri was a student in a group class taught by Nooshafarian at the jail.
He said the friendship between Nayeri and Nooshafarian developed from a "student-teacher relationship," but "how far it went and whether it was physical we're trying to get into that."
Hallock said investigators strongly believe the three men remain somewhere in the Southern California region.
The breakout marks the first jail escape in Orange County since the 1980s, sheriff's officials have said.
(Reporting by Tori Richards in Santa Ana; Writing and additional reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Sandra Maler and Leslie Adler)