SANTA ANA (CBSLA.com) — A 74-year-old cab driver held hostage by three escaped inmates from Orange County's Central Men's Jail said Wednesday that the fugitives gloated as they saw their mugshots splashed across the TV screen.
Long Hoang Ma shared his harrowing ordeal about being held captive by three inmates for seven days. Speaking through an translator, Ma said: "The first night, they turned on the TV, and Bac Duong showed me on the TV. These three are us."
Ma's ordeal began Jan. 22 when he unknowingly picked up the three escapees in Garden Grove just hours after the jailbreak. He drove his captors hundreds of miles across Southern California and up to the Bay Area as they hid out in cheap motels in Rosemead and Alameda, drank beer and Jack Daniels and chain-smoked.
In the days that followed, Ma said, Duong befriended him, called him "uncle" and acted as his protector as the fugitives argued over whether to kill him. The driver said he thought: "Bac Duong was going to kill me, not save me."
Ma said Duong told him his cohorts, Hossein Nayeri and Jonathan Tieu, were planning to tie him up with rope bought at Home Depot and kill him.
Ma, who came to the U.S. from Vietnam in 1992, said his cellphone rang while he was held captive. People asked to be picked up, but his captors forced him to lie about his whereabouts.
At one point, Ma said, Nayeri punched Duong in the face during an argument. The driver speaks Vietnamese and very little English. He didn't understand the fight. But he said Duong later told him it was about whether he should be killed.
Ma recalled Duong telling him: "He really wants to get rid of you. But I'm trying to help you." Duong told him that Nayeri "wanted to toss him into the ocean," Ma said.
Duong was worried about his own life after the fistfight with Nayeri, who appeared to be the leader of the group. "I don't know English very well, but I heard Nayeri saying `Bang, old man! Bang, old man!' And they were fighting back forth with each other," Ma said.
The fugitives used Ma's identification to check into two motels and to pick up $3,000 from Western Union that he was told had been wired to fugitive Nayeri by his mother.
He recalled it was terrifying when the third escapee, Jonathan Tieu, put a gun on his side. But it was Duong who protected him and why he is alive. "I feel very happy," Ma said as he breathed a sigh of relief. "From the bottom of my heart, I can say Bac Duong saved my life, and I'm so grateful and thankful to him. I thought I was dying."
Ma said Duong decided to leave the others and take Ma, allowing Ma to sit beside him with his hands unbound during the ride back to Santa Ana, where Duong surrendered to police exactly a week after the jailbreak.
Nayeri and Tieu were caught in San Francisco the next day after a homeless man reported seeing a white van matching the description of a vehicle authorities said the fugitives had stolen.
The homeless man, Matthew Hay-Chapman, told the San Francisco Chronicle that he follows current events and recognized the car. He could wind up collecting $140,000 in reward money, the paper reported.
"On the way back to Southern California, Bac Duong told me that escaping the prison is not easy," Ma said.
The grandfather of eight, who was a captain in the South Vietnamese army during the Vietnam War, advertises his independent cab business in Vietnamese-language newspapers.
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