On January 12th, Thomas Yoxall was heading down Interstate 10 with his fiancée en route to California when they came across a state patrol car with its emergency lights on and flares surrounding an accident. As they slowed down, another thing soon came into view: a man pounding a downed state trooper’s head into the pavement.
“I had to help. I knew I had to help,” Yoxall told reporters in his first interview since the incident earlier this month. Yoxall, a gun enthusiast with a permit to carry a concealed weapon, drew his pistol and commanded the attacker to stop. When he didn’t, Yoxall fired twice, striking the assailant and sending him to the ground. But as Yoxall rushed to the aid of the downed officer, the attacker sprung at them again. This time, Yoxall shot him in the head, killing the man instantly.
“I did save somebody’s life that morning, but I had to take somebody else’s life in the process and that’s difficult to reconcile,” Yoxall said through tears in his eyes. The man has since sought counseling from his pastor due to the emotional fallout of the incident, but says he wouldn’t hesitate to do it again.
“This is something that I will live with, but I wouldn’t change it, because another man got to go home to his family and his family gets to keep him a little while longer and that’s the important part.”
The state trooper was responding to a vehicle accident, in which 37-year-old Leonard Penuelas-Escobar and 23-year-old Vanessa Monique Lopez-Ruiz were in a vehicle that had rolled over. Ed Andersson, a 27-year veteran of the Arizona State Police, was cradling the dying woman when Penuelas-Escobar ambushed him, shooting him twice—in the chest and arm. When Yoxall arrived, Penuelas-Escobar was “savagely beating” the officer’s head into the road.
Ed Anderson is still hospitalized and will need to undergo more surgery, but is alive thanks to the actions of Yoxall, who had previously had his right to own a firearm revoked as a felon, but had it reinstated in 2003 upon petitioning to have his felony conviction reduced.
Yoxall was convicted of stealing electronics equipment from his place of employment in 2000, but stated plainly that “those moments of poor judgment have not dictated my future.” When petitioning to have his conviction reduced, Yoxall cited his wish to regain the right to own a firearm as a driving force in the request.
“Before this incident, I was an avid shooter,” Yoxall wrote to a judge in 2003. “I miss owning a gun. I miss shooting with my friends as well as my son. I hope, if nothing else, you will reinstate my civil rights to include the right to bear arms once again.”
The judge clearly saw things Yoxall’s way and vacated his conviction. Since then, Yoxall says he continues to go shooting a few times a year and that he believes gun owners have a duty to practice proper shooting techniques. Although he has no law enforcement or military experience, he told reporters that he shoots with friends from both communities.
Yoxall, still visibly shaken from the incident a few weeks ago, shied away from being called a hero.
“I’m an ordinary person. I go to work, I do photography, I hang out with my friends and family, I read,” he told reporters. “I was put in extraordinary circumstances and I may have acted heroically, but I don’t consider myself a hero at all.”
Police still don’t know why Penuelas-Escobar attacked the officer, but it has been confirmed that he was in the country illegally. Although Yoxall doesn’t consider himself a hero, Anderson is expected to recover and is in “good spirits” despite losing portions of the bones in his right arm from the attack—a prognosis that would likely have been quite a bit more grim if not for the heroic actions of the former felon.
“It’s who I am,” Yoxall said. “I can’t arbitrarily stand by and watch a tragedy like that unfold without doing what I can to intervene and stop it.”
Image courtesy of ABC News