A cab driver who was along for the ride in the 2016 escape of three Orange County Jail inmates testified Tuesday he wanted no part of the escapade and was forced to take pictures of two of the defendants at a beach in northern California.
Hossein Nayeri, 44, is charged with escaping custody, car theft and kidnapping for carjacking, all felonies. A charge of kidnapping to commit robbery was dismissed, according to court records.
Co-defendant Bac Tien Duong, 50, was sentenced to 20 years in prison in July. Duong, who was in custody at the time of the escape on attempted murder, resolved that case as well when he was sentenced.
Duong was convicted in April of 2021 for the escape. He was acquitted of felony kidnapping for robbery, but convicted of the lesser charge of simple kidnapping. A mistrial was declared when jurors could not reach a verdict on the car theft.
Co-defendant Jonathan Tieu, 27, is awaiting trial.
During Nayeri’s trial Tuesday, unlicensed cab driver Long Ma testified through a Vietnamese translator that the escapees forced him at gunpoint into the backseat of his Honda Civic and to hand over his phone and wallet.
“I was not there to argue,” he testified through the translator.
The trio called the cab driver for transportation after busting out of the jail Jan. 22, 2016, Deputy District Attorney David McMurrin said. The three took Ma along with them to use his ID to check into motels and pick up money wired from Nayeri’s mother in Iran, McMurrin said.
After checking into the first motel, Duong switched on the TV news and got Ma’s attention, he testified.
“Bac called me and pointed to the TV and said that’s us, that’s us,” Ma testified, referring to a news report about the breakout.
“Pointing a gun at me, I already knew what kind of people they were,” Ma testified.
He recalled how they went to a local restaurant to dine on Chinese food and how they circled a parking structure to find a car and steal its license plate.
Then Duong left the others and came back with a white van that prosecutors said he stole, Ma testified.
Ma said he struggled to sleep, but Nayeri was “like a king, eating and sleeping to his own liking.”
Ma also testified how Duong, who also spoke Vietnamese, went with him to a Western Union office to retrieve $2,000 wired to the escapees from Nayeri’s mother in Iran.
Ma told Duong that he suffered from diabetes and high blood pressure and needed his medication “or I would die,” he testified. He “begged” Duong to drive him home, which he did, he said.
While in his home he went to the bathroom and wrote down a note “saying this and that and this happened and pleaded rescue me,” he testified. He stuffed the note in a toothbrush holder, but his roommates never saw it, he said.
The two returned to San Jose and they checked into another motel with the others, he said.
Then Nayeri and Tieu took Ma to a local beach to take “pictures and such with the defendant and Tieu,” he testified.
“I stayed calm and took the pictures,” Ma testified. “They told me to take pictures, but I did not want to take pictures.”
Ma said he doesn’t even like to take pictures of his own family.
When McMurrin showed the witness a photo of Ma smiling with Tieu’s arm around his shoulder, Ma said he was “smiling during suffering.”
At first the escapees were “really in agreement,” but after a few days they were “distant to one another,” Ma testified.
At one point Duong and Nayeri got into an “argument about something,” Ma testified.
McMurrin said the two were arguing about what to do with Ma.
Nayeri flipped a switchblade on the bed during the dispute and the two kept arguing until it boiled over into a fight, Ma testified.
“Defendant jumped over the bed and hit Bac,” Ma testified. “(Duong) was kind of blocking himself.”
Ma took Duong into the bathroom to wipe blood off his face, he testified.
The next morning the escapees drove to a department store with Duong and Ma in the Honda and Tieu and Nayeri in the van, Ma testified.
Ma told him this business of escaping was “very hard,” and Duong grew thoughtful before saying, “Uncle, uncle, let’s go quickly, uncle,” Ma testified.
But they did not move and Nayeri and Tieu came out of the store and the group returned to the motel, Ma testified.
When Tieu and Nayeri again left the motel together, leaving Duong and Ma behind, Duong took action, Ma testified.
“Go quickly, uncle, do not hesitate,” Duong told Ma, the cab driver testified. “So I asked, where to? And he said, uncle, you will know.”
While driving back to Orange County, Duong gave Ma back his phone and told him to call anyone they needed, Ma testified.
Duong eventually turned himself in while Tieu and Nayeri kept going north to San Francisco, where they were ultimately arrested.
Nayeri was in custody at the time awaiting trial for the sexual mutilation of a marijuana dispensary owner in a kidnapping-extortion scheme. Nayeri was convicted in that case in August of 2019 and was sentenced in October 2020 to life in prison without parole.
Testimony will continue in the trial Wednesday.