The cab driver who was kidnapped by three Orange County jail escapees said Friday that he planned to sue the county for discrimination.
Even though he had persuaded one of the three fugitives to surrender, Long Ma said, and had worked with law enforcement — sharing information that helped capture the others — county supervisors voted not to give him any reward money. The reason, he said, was because he was a "humble" Vietnamese American who hesitated to brag about his actions.
Four people split the $150,000: a homeless man who spotted two of the escapees in San Francisco, two Target employees in Rosemead who recognized the fugitives on surveillance video and a man whose van they had stolen.
Standing outside his lawyer's office in Fountain Valley on Friday, Ma, 71, said the county was "responsible for his suffering."
Ma said that since he was kidnapped and held at gunpoint by Bac Duong, Hossein Nayeri and Jonathan Tieu, he has fought nightmares while helping authorities. He said he suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and that fear has kept him close to home.
Hours after they escaped Jan. 22, the inmates called Ma's cab service. They took him hostage, authorities said, and forced him to head north — eventually winding up in San Jose.
"On the first day, I knew they were going to kill me. On the second day, I gave up. My mind gave up," Ma said. "But later, I knew I had to do something because they could have hurt a lot of people." So in between beers, burgers and noodles, Ma befriended Duong and quietly urged the fugitive to return to Orange County and turn himself in.
Hoang Huy Tu, Ma's attorney, credited his client's empathy for "preventing what could have been a huge tragedy when you have people escaping from jail with a weapon."
"It's totally unfair. Is there a pattern of discrimination that the only two who were ignored when they gave out rewards are two Vietnamese Americans?" Tu asked. Theresa Nguyen, a friend whom Duong described as his "little sister," called 911 to alert police that he was in her Santa Ana auto body shop — ready to surrender.
When county officials met to distribute the reward, supervisors said the cabbie was a victim. Supervisor Todd Spitzer said that although he sympathized with Ma's ordeal, it would be illegal to award him any money.
But, Tu said, "victims have rights."
The lawyer said he planned to file the suit to seek compensation for Ma next week. Tu also said he would challenge the state code that says a public entity — in this case Orange County — cannot be held liable for "any injury caused by an escaping or escaped prisoner."
"We must charge ahead and maybe we can change the law," Tu said. "But it's just us, the little guy, David versus Goliath."