SANTA ANA, Calif. (AP) — A woman who taught English classes at a Southern California jail was arrested Thursday on suspicion of helping three inmates — including an alleged killer — escape the lockup, and the men are believed to be riding around in a stolen van.
Nooshafarin Ravaghi, 44, of Lake Forest, was arrested nearly a week after the men — one an alleged killer — cut their way through steel bars, climbed through plumbing tunnels, made their way to the roof, cut razor wire and, using rope made of braided bedsheets, rappelled four stories to freedom from the roof of the Orange County Central Men's Jail. The escape on Jan. 22 wasn't noticed for 16 hours.
It was the first escape from the maximum-security lockup in more than 20 years.
Ravaghi was taken into custody about an hour before the arrest was announced Thursday afternoon and remained jailed. It was unclear whether she had an attorney.
Ravaghi had worked since 2014 as a part-time instructor of English as a second language in the inmate education program operated by the Rancho Santiago Community College District, the school said in a statement.
One of her students was Hossein Nayeri, 37, the alleged mastermind of the escape, who was awaiting trial on charges that he kidnapped and tortured a marijuana dispensary owner — finally cutting off his penis — in a bid to learn where he might have cached money.
"There was some type of relationship that developed between the two" that was close, Hallock said, but he didn't know whether it was a romance.
Ravaghi denied supplied any tools to the inmates, but investigators suspect she provided Google maps that potentially could have helped the inmates plan their route after fleeing the jail, Hallock said.
According to a personal website that sells children's books designed by Ravaghi under the name "the Noosha Collection," she was born, like Nayeri, in Iran.
She traveled in Europe and Asia as a child and attended college in Tehran before coming to California in 1997, where she got a masters' degree in education and began teaching English to non-native speakers.
She had undergone a sheriff's background check before beginning her assignment in the jail, and the college is working closely with sheriff's officials to provide anything they need, the school's statement said.
Hallock said investigators believe he and the others — alleged killer Bac Duong, 43, and Jonathan Tieu, 20 — are living in a white GMC Savana van that was stolen on Saturday in southern Los Angeles.
Duong apparently stole the vehicle from someone after responding to a sales ad and taking it for a test drive, Hallock said. "They may be driving around and potentially living in the back" of the van, he said.
Hallock said the ongoing manhunt has led to about 10 arrests so far in connection with the escape, with several other arrests made in connection with unrelated arrest warrants or probation violations. None of those arrests were of jail employees.
The investigation has centered on a Vietnamese gang in the nearby cities of Westminster and Garden Grove with ties to two of the inmates.
This story has been corrected to show that the van was stolen on Saturday, not Sunday.
Jablon reported from Los Angeles. Associated Press writers Amanda Lee Myers and Andrew Dalton also contributed to this story from Los Angeles.