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California authorities hunt inmates, investigate their escape

Last Updated Jan 25, 2016 11:03 PM EST

NEW YORK --Authorities say the three men who remain at large after breaking out of a Southern California jail have now been charged with a felony for the escape.

The Orange County district attorney's office announced the new charge Monday night against 43-year-old Tien Duong, 37-year-old Hossein Nayeri and 20-year-old Jonathan Tieu.

The escape charge could mean three extra years in prison for Nayeri and Tieu, and nine extra years for Duong because of previous convictions.

California officials issued an appeal in Vietnamese Monday for information related to the whereabouts of three escaped jail inmates, two of whom are of Vietnamese descent.

"We feel that they may be embedded somewhere in the community," said Orange County Sheriff's Office Lt. Dave Sawyer, during a press conference Monday. Investigators believes Jonathan Tieu, Bac Duong and Hossein Nayeri used a tool to cut through a steel grate in their cell at the Central Men's Jail in Santa Ana, Calif., shortly after 5 a.m. on Friday. The trio then allegedly proceeded through the jail's plumbing system, cutting through as many as four more metal or steel barriers, before using a homemade rope of bed linens to rappel five stories from the jail's roof to the ground.

Jail staff didn't realize the trio was missing until about 9 p.m. that night, according to officials. The jail is a "transitory" facility, which means inmates are able to move from area to area for services and other appointments throughout much of the day. Hallock said Monday that because the jail is "transitory," formal inmate counts are only done twice a day, at 5 a.m. and 8 p.m.

But officials say at 8 p.m. on Friday, a large fight broke out, and a deputy was assaulted, delaying the usual count for an hour. Hallock acknowledged that authorities are investigating whether the assault was planned in order to give the inmates extra time in their escape.

A source told CBS Los Angeles that after jail staff realized the escape happened, a bloodhound followed the inmates' scent to the street but then lost the scent, potentially suggesting they got into a car. Authorities said they have not obtained any evidence confirming that theory.

As local and federal law enforcement searches for the escaped inmates, the sheriff's office has also begun investigating how they managed to get out in the first place. Detectives have not ruled out the possibility that other inmates or jail staff helped, but they don't currently have any suspects, according to Sawyer, who is commander of the sheriff's criminal investigations bureau.

"As far as my knowledge goes there's no one in the employ of the sheriff's department who has been placed on administrative leave," Sawyer said.

All three inmates are considered to be extremely dangerous, Orange County Sheriff's Lt. Jeff Hallock said during the press conference.

Tieu is a 20-year-old who is accused of murder and attempted murder. Court documents obtained by 48 Hours' Crimesider allege that Tieu is in a gang known as "TRG," or "Tiny Rascal Gang." Prosecutors say he shot and killed one man, and injured a juvenile, after a March 2011 fight that involved several gangs. More than 10 people were arrested in raids following the murder. Tieu was being held on $1 million bond in the case.

Duong, 43, is accused of shooting and badly injuring a man in November 2015. He was being held without bond since last month on charges of attempted murder, assault with a deadly weapon, shooting at an inhabited dwelling and being an ex-felon in possession of a firearm. Duong is also believed to be associated with a gang, Hallock said.

Hossein Nayeri, 37, had been held without bond since September 2014 on charges of kidnapping, torture, aggravated mayhem and burglary. Nayeri and three other men are accused of kidnapping a California marijuana dispensary owner in 2012. They allegedly drove the dispensary owner to a desert spot where they believed he had hidden money and then tortured him using fire and bleach, before cutting off his penis, authorities said.

The man was allegedly left for dead in the desert, but survived.

Police say Nayeri fled the U.S. to his native Iran, where he remained for several months. But in 2014, investigatory say they used a ruse to get Nayeri to the Czech Republic, which has a strong extradition relationship with the U.S. He was arrested in Prague as he was changing flights from Iran to Spain to visit family.

Hallock said there's no indication that gangs are helping the escaped inmates, but said authorities are closely monitoring the gangs' activities, just in case.

During Monday's press conference, a deputy read a statement in Vietnamese pleading for anyone with information about the escaped men to come forward.

It is not clear if the trio are still together, or have obtained weapons or help in their escape, Carrie Braun, a spokesperson for the sheriff's office told 48 Hours' Crimesider Monday. Though authorities have received tips in the case, they said few, if any, have turned into good leads.

"The vast majority of our personnel are working on this case," Braun said.