The man who helped three Orange County Jail inmates escape testified Tuesday that the trio was “happy” and “relieved” as they piled into his car and grew more excited the further they get away from custody in Santa Ana.
Loc Ba Nguyen testified in the trial of his longtime friend, Bac Tien Duong, 48, who is charged along with co-defendants Hossein Nayeri, 42, and Jonathan Tieu, 25, in the brazen breakout Jan. 22, 2016.
Nayeri and Tieu are scheduled to be tried separately later.
Nguyen met Duong about 20 years ago when the defendant worked at Nguyen’s business in Brea, he testified.
“I would consider him my store manager,” Nguyen said. “He would take over the store when I was out or help with a delivery if necessary.”
Over time they also grew to be friends, he testified. When Nguyen had to liquidate one of his stores and Duong didn’t have a place to live Nguyen let him stay with his family for a couple of months, he testified.
The two lost touch for about 10 years and Nguyen later started up a new handyman business, he testified.
Nguyen recounted how he drove to the jail one night and left the inmates a duffel bag containing a cellphone.
Nguyen said he saw “some kind of makeshift rope” outside the jail and tied it to the duffel bag and “walked away” without looking.
A few days later, “He called me from the cellphone I put in the bag,” Nguyen said.
Duong asked him for more supplies, Nguyen said.
“The second delivery consisted of another cellphone, rope and I don’t recall the other items, but I know there was a second phone and rope,” Duong said, adding, “The first cellphone did not have a charger so I had to purchase a new phone and a charger as well.”
Nguyen agreed to pick up the trio, but when he drove to the jail one night he waited and when he didn’t see anyone he drove back to his Costa Mesa home, he testified.
“I got a call around 4 or 5 a.m. to come back,” Nguyen testified.
Duong told him, “We’re ready, come back,” Nguyen testified.
“I made a statement I didn’t want to come back because it was getting to be almost morning and he said come back, come back,” Nguyen testified.
Nguyen returned to the jail and parked in a dead-end street, he testified.
“I parked and within a matter of 10 minutes all three came into the truck,” Nguyen testified.
When asked what their mood was, Nguyen said, “I would say relief.”
The plan was for Nguyen to “drop them at one location and then I was going home,” he testified.
Duong gave Nguyen directions to the home of Tung Nguyen, who pleaded guilty in November 2018 to being an accessory after the fact and was sentenced to 40 hours of community service.
Nguyen said it was a “very foggy night,” so he was careful to keep his eye on the road as he helped the inmates flee custody.
“They were happy,” Nguyen said. “Again, it was more like relief, happy.”
As they got to the home of Tung Nguyen, who is no relation to Loc Nguyen, the three were showing “a little more excitement in their tone of voice, happy,” Loc Nguyen testified.
Duong got “four or five bottles of beer and cash” at Tung Nguyen’s home, Loc Nguyen testified.
“I said, I’m out of here,” Loc Nguyen testified.
Later, Nayeri called Loc Nguyen on the contraband cellphone and asked him, “how to transfer money from Iran or Iraq to a checking account here to America,” Loc Nguyen testified.
“I told him I don’t know and gave him a number of a gentleman — I believe he’s from Lebanon — who I bought the cellphone from and said, `You need to call this gentleman and he can help you with the transfer of the money,”’ Loc Nguyen testified.
Days later when Loc Nguyen was in Palm Springs participating in a bicycle ride for charity, the inmates called him, asking if they could use his white van, but Nguyen said it was inoperable.
Investigators approached Nguyen while he was in Palm Springs and he began cooperating with them, he testified.
Nguyen pleaded guilty in June 2017 and was sentenced to a year in jail, but served his time in home confinement because he said he had a stroke on his sentencing date.
Nguyen called the escapees an unlicensed cab driven by Long Ma, who picked them up at Tung Nguyen’s residence in Westminster and took them to a Target store in the city before taking them to another one in Rosemead for $100, Deputy District Attorney Jake Jondle said.
Along the way they stayed at several hotels together, Jondle said.
“If Mr. Ma wanted to do anything he had to ask permission,” Jondle said, adding that at the time Ma was 72.
The three drove to 917 W. 85th St. in South Los Angeles, where they met a man who was selling a van on Craigslist, Jondle said.
Duong went on a test ride with the owner and when he agreed to buy the vehicle and the owner went into his home briefly Duong jumped into the van and drove off, Jondle said.
The escapees then “make their way to San Jose and then San Francisco,” Jondle said.
“After five or six days… the honeymoon phase… sours,” Jondle said.
Duong took the gun and made Ma take him back to Santa Ana, Jondle said.
“He told Ma we’ll split the reward” for the capture of the escapees, Jondle said.
Duong turned himself in with help from a friend in the Santa Ana Police Department, Jondle said.
Tieu and Nayeri were caught the next day following a tip from a transient, who ultimately collected the reward.
On the way back to Orange County, Duong “threw the gun either off the (Santa Ana) 5 Freeway or the 101 on his way back,” Jondle said.