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O.C. jail escapees formally charged with kidnapping cab driver

The three men who launched a daring escape from the Men's Central Jail in Orange County were formally charged Friday with kidnapping a cab driver at gunpoint and dragging him along on their wild weeklong flight from justice, prosecutors said.

Hossein Nayeri, Jonathan Tieu and Bac Duong were all charged with kidnapping to commit robbery and unlawful taking of a vehicle, according to a news release from the Orange County district attorney's office.

The three men, who had been awaiting trial on a host of other violent crimes and face additional felony escape charges in the jailbreak plot, each face between 10 and 12 years in prison on the kidnapping and theft charges, prosecutors said.

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The cab driver, Long Ma, picked up the three men on Jan. 22, the same day they escaped from the Santa Ana lockup. Deputies were just learning of the jailbreak when Ma stopped his cab to take the fare in Westminster, and their pictures had not been released to the media.

He drove them to a Target store, and then to a nearby residence. At that point, Duong pressed a gun against Ma's rib cage. 

Ma's kidnapping would play a central role in the unraveling of the escape plot. Police focused their search for the escapees on Orange County's large Vietnamese community, but the men stole a second vehicle and then forced Ma to drive them north to San Jose. 

Over the next several days, the escapees used Ma's driver license to rent motel rooms and obtain cash, but they also allegedly argued bitterly over whether to kill him. Duong, who had developed a bond with his prisoner, refused to harm the man and got into a physical altercation with Nayeri inside a San Jose motel room on Jan. 28, Ma said.

"He really wants to get rid of you, but I'm trying to help you," the cab driver recalled Duong saying in an interview with the Los Angeles Times last month.

Duong drove back to Orange County with Ma the next day, and surrendered to authorities on Jan. 29. Nayeri and Tieu were captured in San Francisco the following morning.

Before they escaped by cutting their way through several plumbing tunnels and metal barriers, the three men were awaiting trial in a series of grisly crimes. Nayeri had been charged with torture and kidnapping for abducting a marijuana dispensary owner, dragging him to the desert, burning him with a blowtorch and then severing the man's penis in a bizarre plot to force him to divulge the location of hidden cash stores.

Tieu had been charged in a gangland murder, and Duong was awaiting trial on attempted murder charges stemming from a 2015 shooting.

Ma and Duong formed something of a friendship as they chain-smoked and killed time while the men remained on the run. Weeks after Duong surrendered, Ma visited him in jail.

"I do not forget my debt," he said.

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Los Angeles Times staff writer Ahn Do contributed to this report.

Follow @JamesQueallyLAT on Twitter for crime and police news in Southern California.

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