Driving a cab is a conduit for meeting interesting people from all over the world. On an average day, the worst thing that happens is the driver getting a bad tip.
But there is an element of danger that can’t be ignored, particularly for cabbies who work late at night. They’re often called to courier seedy and unpredictable people, making them an easy target for someone on the run.
Long Hoang Ma was a Vietnamese taxi cab driver in Santa Ana, California. Late in the evening on January 22, 2016, he received a call from a man who spotted his ad in the classifieds section of Nguoi Viet newspaper.
Ma, 71 at the time and living modestly, was compelled to take any work that came his way. He rolled out of bed, too tired to change out of his pajamas, and hopped in his Honda Civic to pick up the man that called for a ride home.
When Long Ma arrived to pick up his passenger, there were three men in total. They asked for a ride to Walmart.
Ma was surprised; over the phone they’d asked him to drive them home. But he obliged, waiting outside of the store while they did their shopping inside.
They didn’t find what they were looking for at Walmart, so they asked Ma to drive them to a Target department store that was 45 minutes away.
Again, Ma waited for them. When he asked them to choose a final destination, they shoved a gun in his stomach and made it clear he wasn’t going anywhere.
Ma was moved to the back seat as one of the men jumped in the driver’s seat and took them to a nearby hotel called the Flamingo Inn.
Ma was taken hostage and feared for his life. He had no idea someone was fighting to keep him alive.
“Whether I die or not, it depends on god, and I couldn’t, I didn’t react to anything at all,” Ma said according to ABC 7 News.
Inside the cramped room of the motel, the television was flipped to the nightly news. The headlining story was about three escaped convicts on the run from the law.
Ma felt his heart fall into his stomach as mugshots of the men came up on the screen. Bac Duong, 43, Hossein Nayeri, 37, and Jonathan Tieu, 20 were runaways from an Orange County jail.
Duong was the man who’d called him on the phone and spoke to him in their native Vietnamese tongue. As it turned out, he was also the person fighting to keep him alive.
Duong had grown attached to Ma, affectionately calling him “uncle” and devising a plan to usher him to safety.
Ma’s fears that he could be killed at any moment were well placed. His captors drank heavily, smoked marijuana, and argued over killing the driver on a nightly basis.
Duong began to affectionately call Ma “uncle,” and told him he was trying to keep him safe. Nayeri and Tieu were less keen to keep him around.
Ma said Nayeri made a number of threatening gestures to him, and Duong and Nayeri even got into a physical altercation over whether Ma should be disposed of.
“Boom old man. Boom old man. So that’s what I heard, and then Bac Duong, you know, argued with him, they fighting, argue,” Ma said.
Fearful that Ma’s disappearance would arouse suspicion, the fugitives ditched Ma’s Honda Civic and stole a white GMC van.
Duong responded to an ad on Craigslist for a white cargo van. When he showed up to take the car for a test drive, he took off in the vehicle, returning to the motel.
Tieu and Nayeri then took the van to have the windows tinted, leaving Duong and Ma behind at the motel.
“Bac Duong said, ‘No, we have to go. We have to go right now,'” Ma said.
While in the car, Duong spoke to Ma casually, asking him about the life he left behind in Vietnam and his family. After a moment of silence, Ma suggested Duong turn himself in.
“I thought Bac Duong was going to kill me, not save me,” Ma told reporters from Inside Edition.
Duong wasn’t upset by the suggestion to turn himself in; instead he asked Ma if he could call him “father.”
“Yes,” Ma said. “You can call me ‘father,’ and I will call you ‘son.’”
Duong released Ma, who returned to his boarding house. Nobody had reported him missing.
Duong turned himself in to the police, and the following day, Tieu and Nayeri were arrested by police after a homeless man spotted them in their white van.
Ma and Duong’s friendship continues to grow. The cab driver has visited him in jail, and deposited money into his jail account.
Ma and Duong are now richer in friendship because of the ordeal. In fact, they have continued to build their relationship despite Duong being behind bars.
“My son, as long as I am still here, I will rescue you like you rescued me,” Ma promised, according to the L.A. Times.
It’s the most unusual start to a friendship anyone could imagine. As of the year 2016, Ma had four estranged children of his own but visited Duong in prison several times since his rearrest. They continue to refer to each other as “father” and “son.”