Earlier that night, Ma, a cabdriver, unwittingly picked up the three most sought-after men in Southern California at the time.
The trio had broken out of a maximum-security jail and they were trying to stay one step ahead of a massive manhunt.
Ma was their next pawn.
"He put a gun in my stomach," Ma told local media through a translator, about one of the men. "And he said, we need your help. You have to help us for a few days."
Ma, a man in his 70s and a grandfather of eight, came to the United States in 1992. He advertises his independent cab service in Vietnamese-language newspapers. On the night of January 22, he received a call to pick up a fare outside a restaurant.
At first, the trip seemed routine. He didn't know his passengers were all men charged with violent crimes
. He didn't know they were all in jail that morning. He didn't know they were wanted for a daring escape
Police said Jonathan Tieu, Hossein Nayeri and Bac Tien Duong cut through steel bars at the Central Men's Jail in Santa Ana, made their way through plumbing tunnels and rappelled off a roof.
Then, authorities said
, they moved from house to house before calling the cab to pick them up.
The taxi took them to a Target in Rosemead, where they went shopping, Orange County Sheriff's spokesman Capt. Jeff Hallock said.
Ma was threatened and taken hostage.
He spent the following days tethered to his captors in a series of cheap motels, where they drank and chain-smoked. And he listened to them argue over whether they should kill him.
During their fifth day on the lam, the men drove with Ma up north to San Jose, more than 300 miles away.
That night, authorities say Nayeri and Duong argued -- and even physically fought -- over whether to kill the cabdriver. Ma said Nayeri was the one who wanted him dead.
Shortly after, Duong and Ma made a run for it.
"I thought Bac Duong was going to kill me, not save me," Ma said.
The two then headed back to Southern California, where Duong eventually turned himself in.
A day later, Nayeri and Tieu were captured
in San Francisco after someone spotted a stolen white van they were using.
The cabdriver was not injured in the ordeal, police said.
And while the experience shook Ma, he also is grateful -- to one of his captors.
"Bac Duong saved my life, and I owe him," Ma said. "I'm so thankful, so grateful to him."