Taxi driver Long Ma still remembers the words that changed a cab ride around Santa Ana, Calif., from uneasy to terrifying: "We need your help." What made that phrase, spoken to the 71-year-old Ma in his native Vietnamese, so frightening, as Paul Kix explains in his tale for GQ, is that one of Ma's three passengers pulled a gun on him as he spoke it. That speaker was Bac Duong, the man who'd originally called for the cab and who Ma would later find out was, along with fellow passengers Jonathan Tieu and Hossein Nayeri, an escaped prisoner from the Orange County Men's Central Jail. Ma was suddenly thrust into the middle of their getaway, and they were taking him along for the ride. "Hey, that's us!" Ma recalls Duong exclaiming the next day in a motel room as a news report of their prison break aired on TV.
The now-abducted Ma watched in horror as the broadcast detailed what crimes they'd committed, including murder, kidnapping, and torture. Kix's story outlines the group's escape, as well as their recruitment of Ma via a Vietnamese newspaper (Duong was also Vietnamese) so they could get their hands on a car. Ma had been a lieutenant colonel in the South Vietnamese Army during the Vietnam War, as well as a prisoner for seven years in a Communist-run labor camp, but he was now mired in "a mix of dread and confusion he hadn't felt in 40 years." The moment he felt the most fear: when Nayeri decided they were better off killing him, which he relayed to Ma with: "Boom boom, old man!" The rest of Ma's ordeal here, including the surprising way he escaped and the bond he developed with Duong, whom he now calls "Son." (A cabdriver was raped by a female passenger.)