SANTA ANA, Calif. (AP) — A California taxi driver held hostage by three escaped inmates said the fugitives laughed gleefully as they watched TV reports about the search from a motel room where they were holed up.
Long Hoang Ma, 71, told the Los Angeles Times he was befriended by inmate Bac Duong, who called him “Uncle” and served as his protector as the escapees argued over whether to kill the cab driver. Ma said he wondered if he would survive.
“Dead or alive — it’s up to God,” Ma said. “I know I have no control over what happens to me.”
Ma was held captive for a week after picking the armed inmates up Jan. 22 in Garden Grove, later driving with them across the state and sleeping beside them as they chain-smoked in tiny hotel rooms.
At one point, Ma said, fugitive Hossein Nayeri punched Duong in the face during an argument. Ma speaks only a few words of English so he didn’t understand the fight, he said, but Duong told him it was about whether he should be killed.
He said Nayeri forced him to pose for portraits with the other fugitives, for reasons he didn’t understand.
“He really wants to get rid of you, but I’m trying to help you,” the cab driver recalled Duong saying. He said Duong told him that Nayeri “wanted to toss him into the ocean.”
Duong cried, worried that Nayeri — who appeared to be the leader — would become violent, and talked about wanting to surrender, according to Ma.
While in San Jose, Duong took him to a Western Union to collect $3,000 that he said Nayeri’s mother had sent him.
When Duong decided to leave the others, Ma said the escapee allowed him to sit beside him with his hands unbound during the ride back to Orange County.
Ma, who came to the U.S. from Vietnam in 1992, told his story to the Times on Tuesday as he drove around Orange County’s Little Saigon, trying to make up for a week’s lost fares.
During his week as a captive, Ma said, his cellphone would ring with people asking to be picked up, but his captors forced him to lie about his whereabouts. “I would tell customers that I’m at the airport, I’m not available, or that I’m in Vegas and not coming back soon,” he said.
Nayeri, Duong and Jonathan Tieu escaped from Central Men’s Jail in Santa Ana by sawing through a metal grate, climbing inside jail walls to reach the roof and rappelling down four stories using a rope made of sheets.
Duong surrendered on Friday. Nayeri and Tieu were caught in San Francisco the next day.
Information from: Los Angeles Times, http://www.latimes.com/