The cab driver who was kidnapped and forced to drive three escaped Orange County inmates all over California said Wednesday he feels lucky to be alive.
Long Ma was working as a sort of freelance cab driver Jan. 22 when he received a call asking him to do a pickup at a landmark Little Saigon restaurant nearly four miles from the Santa Ana jail.
The three escaped inmates, Hossein Nayeri, Jonathan Tieu and Bac Duong, took Ma hostage, forcing him to drive them around.
“Until the day I was released, I always think that 100 percent I would die,” Ma, 74, said through translator, Dzung Do, a reporter with Nguoi Viet newspaper.
Looking back, Ma feared he would either be killed by his captors or by police.
“I was afraid that the police would come and that they would kill me because they thought I was an accomplice,” he said.
Ma said he didn't understand everything the trio said or did until they all landed in a Rosemead motel.
“They turned on the TV and they showed me ‘That's us, that’s us.’ They just escaped from the prison,” he recalled. “They were not afraid at all.”
His Honda Civic still had the sheriff's evidence tags attached Wednesday.
During the road trip to San Jose there was a fight. Ma wasn't sure why until he and Bac Duong started heading south to return to Little Saigon.
“On the way back here Bac Duong told me that ‘the reason that we fight is because Nayeri wanted to kill me but I stopped him.’ Bac Duong stopped him,” he said.
He said Jonathan Tieu always held the gun, but only threatened him once when he watched him change the license plates on the stolen white van.
He knows now they found him through a classified ad in the Vietnamese newspaper.
He showed us how they held him captive in various motel rooms, stretched out and blocking the exit.
“And they sleep on one chair and the other chair they put two feet at door. How can I escape?”
Friday morning, he said, Duong forced him to go into a car repair shop and find the owner. Once he felt safe, the taxi driver and the surrendering inmate parted ways.
“Only after the moment that I put my car key in my car and drive for a while I realized I'm still alive. Before that I never thought I would be alive.”
Ma said at one point Duong asked if he could sleep at his home. The answer was a resounding "no."