With the gun debate flaring up after each mass shooting in America, it’s almost inconceivable that a felon would be able to get his sentence lowered to a misdemeanor, allowing him to carry again.
But when one man begged to have his right to carry reinstated because he’s an avid hunter, it would result in him saving a state trooper’s life in Arizona.
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 being turned away from entering the U.S. in 2005, he got in anyway and lived in Glendale, Arizona, for at least a year and a half.
Illegally Living in the U.S.
According to AZ Central news, Penuelas-Escobar had no criminal history and was a former federal police officer in Mexico. On a Thursday night in 2017, Penuelas-Escobar was driving a vehicle at a high speed when it rolled over. Since he was wearing a seat belt, he did not incur any serious injuries in the crash, but the woman he was with did.
The woman, identified as Vanessa Monique Lopez-Ruiz, 23, was not wearing her seat belt and was thrown from the vehicle. According to Frank Milstead, Arizona Department of Public Safety director, the woman was from Phoenix and 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 had recently been kicked out of their apartment because they were abusing and possibly selling drugs. For this reason, they were staying in Salome, and it’s believed they were heading there when they crashed. Salome is 45 miles northwest of the where the accident took place.
Milstead told AZ Central that the motive of the crash is 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],” he said.
The car rolled after being hit, which ejected Lopez-Ruiz from the vehicle 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.
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
“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.” Penuelas-Escobar wasn’t a victim at all, but was the shooter who motorists reported to police. “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. 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 was dark and desolate.
There was no one else around other than Penuelas-Escobar and the injured female companion. And the attack wasn’t over. 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 said. “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 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.
Never Expected That
He had just begun the five-hour-long drive along Interstate 10 when a patrol car sped passed him. “I was thinking, not a good way to start the morning with someone getting pulled over,” Yoxall said. 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 “fist after fist.” Yoxall pulled over, took his firearm from the center console of his truck and exited his vehicle. “I yell out to the suspect to stop, I said ‘get off him!’” Yoxall said. “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!” while Yoxall moved to his left to ensure that Andersson wasn’t in his 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 said. “I wouldn’t be here if not for him.” If the attack happened two decades ago, things may have ended differently.
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 met. In the weeks following the shooting, the pair met a few times, forging what they believe is a lifelong bond. “And not just between me and him,” Andersson added, “but between my family and him, too.”
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.”