published on February 3, 2016 - 4:44 AM
Written by The Business Journal Staff

(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 motel rooms where they holed up during a manhunt.

Long Hoang Ma also said he was befriended by inmate Bac Duong, who called him “uncle” and served as his protector as the fugitives argued over whether to kill him, the Los Angeles Times ( ) reported Wednesday.

“Dead or alive — it’s up to God,” driver said. “I know I have no control over what happens to me.”

Ma was held captive at gunpoint for a week after picking up the men on Jan. 22 in Garden Grove in Orange County, where the escape occurred.

He later drove them 400 miles to the San Francisco Bay Area and stayed with them as they chain-smoked in tiny hotel rooms.

Driver told the Orange County Register ( ) his captors spent each night drinking Jack Daniel’s and beer.

At one point, fugitive Hossein Nayeri punched Duong in the face during an argument. Ma speaks Vietnamese and only a few words of English so he didn’t understand the fight, he said, but Duong later told him it was about whether he should be killed.

“He really wants to get rid of you, but I’m trying to help you,” the cab driver recalled Duong saying. Duong told him that Nayeri “wanted to toss him into the ocean,” Ma said.

He said Nayeri forced him to pose for pictures with the other fugitives, for reasons he didn’t understand.

Duong cried and talked about surrendering as he worried that Nayeri — who appeared to be the leader of the group— would become violent.

Duong eventually left with Ma, allowing him to sit with his hands unbound during the ride back to Orange County.

Ma, who came to the U.S. from Vietnam in 1992, said his cellphone would ring while he was held captive, with people asking to be picked up, but his captors forced him to lie about his whereabouts.

Nayeri, Duong and Jonathan Tieu escaped from Central Men’s Jail in Santa Ana. Duong surrendered Friday at an auto shop near the jail. Nayeri and Tieu were caught in San Francisco the next day after a homeless man reported sighting their stolen van, the San Francisco Chronicle reported ( ).

The man, Matthew Hay-Chapman, could end up collecting $140,000 in reward money, the newspaper said.

Hay-Chapman said he often sleeps in a park but still follows current events and knew the fugitives might be nearby when he spotted the van that matched a description of one stolen by the inmates.

Hay-Chapman, 55, told the Chronicle that he hopes to use the reward money to rebuild his life and help his troubled son, disabled daughter and two young grandchildren who are in foster care in Oregon.

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