Friday, February 24, 2017

A Blood-Soaked Patch of Asphalt

Defending the Law
by Robert A. Waters

At 4:15 in the morning, on Interstate 19 near Tonopah, Thomas Yoxall pulled up to a horrific scene. Arizona highway patrolman Edward Andersson lay on his back with Leonard Penuelas-Escobar on top of him, pounding the trooper's head into the asphalt. To make the scene even more surreal, Anderson's patrol car sat beside the road with its emergency lights pulsing.

AZCentral reported that “Penuelas-Escobar and 23-year-old Vanessa Monique Lopez-Ruiz had been involved in a rollover accident just before the attack. Andersson, a 27-year veteran of the department, had stopped to assist when Penuelas-Escobar ambushed him, shooting him in the right shoulder and chest.” Because of his wounds, the trooper was unable to pull his gun to defend himself.

Yoxall stopped his car, grabbed his handgun, and rushed to help. He yelled for Penuelas-Escobar, a former Mexican police officer, to stop, but the assailant continued his his bloody assault.

Yoxall opened fire, hitting Penuelas-Escobar twice.  After the assailant fell to the ground, Yoxall began to assist Andersson. But Penuelas-Escobar got up and came back to continue his violent assault.  It was then that Yoxall shot Penuelas-Escobar in the head, killing him.

During the chaos, a second passerby used Andersson's radio to call for help.

What prompted Penuelas-Escobar to attack the trooper?  When Andersson approached, Penuelas-Escobar was holding the fatally injured Lopez-Ruiz in his arms.  He had crossed the border illegally, and was allegedly addicted to methamphetamine.  Each of those factors may have played a part in the gunman's mind.

Andersson survived the attack, but must undergo additional surgeries to repair his gunshot wounds. 

Twenty years earlier, Yoxall had been convicted of a misdemeanor theft charge, but was able to get the conviction vacated. He later successfully petitioned the court to reinstate his right to own a firearm, which had been revoked because of the conviction.

At a press conference, Department of Public Safety Director Frank Milsted said, “I'm humbled to have met [Yoxall], to know what he did, because we're having this conversation about a hero and not an on-duty death.”

Yoxall said he does not consider himself a hero. “I'm an ordinary person,” he said. “I go to work, I do photography, I hang out with my friends and family, I read.”  

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