Arizona has self-defense laws that give people the right to defend themselves if they feel they are threatened. The threatened person will be justified in either threatening or using physical force against someone if it reasonable, proportional, and immediately necessary to do so.
The following story highlights this law in full effect when a complete stranger used deadly force to save a cop’s life. While people have different opinions about what was the right decision in this matter, the man who pulled the trigger felt justified in doing so. Here’s what happened.
A 37-year-old man, who was believed to be in the United States illegally was also known to many as a methamphetamine (crystal meth) user. Despite Leonard Penuelas-Escobar previously trying to enter the U.S. in 2005, and being turned away, he continued to live in Glendale for at least one year and a half.
Illegally Living In The United States
According to AZ Central news, Penuelas-Escobar had no criminal history and was a former federal police officer in Mexico. On one Thursday night in 2017, Penuelas-Escobar was driving a vehicle at a high speed when it rolled over. Since he was wearing a seatbelt, he did not incur any serious injuries in the crash, but the woman certainly did.
The woman, identified as Vanessa Monique Lopez-Ruiz, 23, was not wearing her seatbelt, so she was thrown from the vehicle, with deadly force. According to Frank Milstead, Arizona Department of Public Safety director, the woman was from Phoenix and was also a known methamphetamine user. Lopez-Ruiz had a criminal history involving possession of drugs and shoplifting and there were multiple warrants out for her arrest at the time of the accident.
A Horrible Night
She and Penuelas-Escobar were believed to be a couple and Penuelas-Escobar had recently been kicked out of his apartment for doing and selling drugs. For this reason, they were staying in Salome, and it’s believed they were heading there when they crashed. Salome is about 45 miles northwest of the where the accident took place.
Milstead told AZ Central that the motive of the crash is a “big unknown.” “I’m gonna guess that he was impaired. They were both known meth users. You can surmise that maybe there were hallucinations… you can surmise that he was frustrated that his girlfriend was mortally injured in this collision and people wouldn’t stop (to help them),” he said.
Penuelas-Escobar rolled the vehicle after being hit, which ejected Lopez-Ruiz from the car and killed her. He then shot a passing car and that driver called the police. Other drivers saw what happened and called police after seeing Penuelas-Escobar dragging the woman’s body out of the road while holding a gun.
Intercepted By Penuelas-Escobar
Meanwhile, State Trooper Edward Andersson was responding to a call about a female victim, thrown from a car. When he showed up at the scene, he “saw a male subject kneeling and holding a female in his arms,” Andersson told CNN. So he blocked the slow lane with his car, set out flares and called for a medical helicopter. But when he returned to the victim, the man was missing.
Letting His Anger Out On An Innocent Man
“I scan with my flashlight and I found him standing in the emergency lane. I could tell he already had his weapon pointed at me.” The man, Penuelas-Escobar, wasn’t a victim at all and he was the shooter who motorists reported to police, but Andersson didn’t know this at the time. “I would try to get my Taser out,” Andersson said. “But every time I would do that, he would strike me in the head, and pound my head on the pavement.”
Shooting An Officer
Penuelas-Escobar said something in Spanish to Andersson and then shot him once in the upper right shoulder. By that point, the bullet in his shoulder paralyzed his arm and prevented him from reaching for his own weapon. It was 4:30 in the morning and the road along Interstate 10 near Tonopah, Arizona, was dark and desolate.
There was no one else around other than Penuelas-Escobar, who shot Andersson, and the injured female companion. And the attack wasn’t over. Andersson’s gun was empty and Penuelas-Escobar charged at him, striking him again with the weapon and bashing his head into the pavement. “I kicked him into the fast lane hoping that a car would come by and hit him,” Andersson told CNN. “But it didn’t work.”
Who Pulled The Trigger?
Andersson rolled onto his right side and shielded his weapon from the attacker. “I knew if he got my gun it’d be all over right then,” he said. But then, Andersson heard a voice and heard gunshots. The attacker laid dead in front of him and Andersson was alive. But he wondered who shot Penuelas-Escobar and in turn saved his own life.
He would learn that a former felon, Thomas Yoxall, happened to be driving by the scene, seeing the man on top of Andersson. Yoxall was a lifelong hunter who begged a judge to reinstate his rights, allowing him to carry a gun again. That morning, on January 12, 2017, Yoxall thought he’d be taking pictures, as he was a photographer heading for a conference in Anaheim, California.
The Last Thing He Expected That Morning
He had just begun the five-hour-long drive Interstate 10 when a patrol car sped past him. “I was thinking, not a good way to start the morning with someone getting pulled over,” Yoxall told CNN. He saw the flashing lights once as he sipped his coffee and then again as he approached mile marker 84.
As Yoxall drove by the scene, he saw the man beating Andersson in a savage way, “just fist after fist.” Yoxall pulled over, took his legal firearm from the center console of his pickup truck and exited his vehicle on the highway. “I yell out to the suspect to stop, I said ‘get off him!’” Yoxall told CNN. “His facial expression, the look in his eye was ‘evil’ if I had to put a word on it.”
Penuelas-Escobar refused to stop and continued beating Andersson. “I hear a voice…ask me if I needed help,” Andersson recalled. “I said ‘yes, I do.’” Penuelas-Escobar quickly told Andersson to “shut up!” and Yoxall moved to his left to ensure that Andersson wasn’t in the line of fire.
Penuelas-Escobar resumed his assault as Andersson bled from his head and Yoxall knew he had to take action. The first shot struck Penuelas-Escobar in the chest, and the second, in his head. The attack was over and Penuelas-Escobar was dead, while Andersson headed to the hospital to receive surgery and more than 100 staples and stitches.
Saving An Officer’s Life
Doctors were able to stabilize him and from his hospital bed, Andersson realized he’d probably be dead if it wasn’t for Yoxall. “As much as I fought, at one point I probably couldn’t have gone on anymore,” Andersson told CNN. “I wouldn’t be here if not for him.” If the attack happened two decades ago, things may have ended differently.
Things Could Have Been Different
At that time, Yoxall was a different man. He was charged with theft in 2000 but the case was pleaded down to a misdemeanor in 2003, allowing him to reinstate his gun rights. “God chose to put me in that place at that moment,” Yoxall said of the encounter with Andersson. “I just can’t see an evil like that perpetuated without intervening.”
A Lifelong Bond
Even with Andersson’s arm in a sling, he still found a way to embrace Yoxall every time they meet. In the weeks following the shooting, the pair has met a few times, forging what they believe is “always going to be a bond.” “And not just between me and him, but between my family and him, too,” Andersson added.
Andersson knows that lives were lost that day but he hopes people won’t judge Yoxall for pulling the trigger. “I hope people understand that he had to do what he had to do to save somebody else’s life,” Andersson said. Yoxall admits that he has no regrets but that it’s “hard to relive sometimes.”