In a story of true redemption, a man who had once been convicted of a felony for theft but later turned his life around by finding God saved a policeman from likely death when he shot and killed the policeman’s assailant.
On January 12, Thomas Yoxall, a photographer who had lost his gun rights when he was charged with theft in 2000, later gaining them back when his case was pleaded down to a misdemeanor in 2003, awakened in Arizona, ready to drive to Anaheim, California, for a conference.
Driving along I-10 at roughly 4:30 a.m., he saw a patrol car sped past him. Yoxall recalled later, "I was thinking, not a good way to start the morning with someone getting pulled over.”
Miles later, Yoxall saw Arizona state trooper Ed Andersson, who had been shot in the shoulder by Leonard Penuelas-Escobar, 37, vainly attempting to retrieve his Taser as Penuelas-Escobar kept striking him in the head and pounding his head into the pavement.
Andersson had been paralyzed in the right shoulder by Penuelas-Escobar’s last bullet; Penuelas-Escobar had been shooting at motorists, which is why Andersson had arrived at the scene in the first place. Andersson said later the bullet that hit him was "one in a thousand. A half inch to my right it would have missed me. A few inches to my left, it would have hit my vest."
Andersson said, "I kicked him into the fast lane hoping that a car would come by and hit him.” He rolled onto his right side, shielding his weapon from Penuelas-Escobar. He said, "I knew if he got my gun it'd be all over right then.”
Andersson arrived on the scene to see two potential victims along the shoulder; a female passenger had been thrown from an overturned car. Andersson said, "I saw a male subject kneeling and holding a female in his arms.” He blocked the slow lane with his car, set flares and called for a medical helicopter. But when he got back to the two people, the man was missing. He said, “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."
When Yoxall drove by, he saw Penuelas-Escobar on top of Andersson. Yoxall recalled, "He's beating him in a savage way. Just fist after fist."
So Yoxall pulled his car over, grabbed his legal firearm, and yelled to Penuelas-Escobar to stop, shouting, “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 kept beating Andersson’s head into the ground.
Andersson later recalled, "I hear a voice ... ask me if I needed help. I said 'yes, I do.'"
Responding to Yoxall, Penuelas-Escobar screamed, "Shut up!"
Yoxall said he moved to his left to make sure Andersson was not in the line of fire. Andersson said, "The next thing I hear is two shots.” Yoxall’s first bullet hit Penuelas-Escobar in the chest; the second hit him in the head, killing him.
The helicopter Andersson summoned for the woman wound up taking Andersson to the hospital. Andersson needed over 100 stitches and staples.
Andersson concluded, "As much as I fought, at one point I probably couldn't have gone on anymore. I probably wouldn't be here (if not for him)."
Yoxall added, "People who know me best know I've come full circle in my life. God chose to put me in that place at that particular moment. I just can't see an evil like that perpetuated without intervening."
The two men have become friends, saying there is "always going to be a bond." Andersson said, “And not just between me and him. But between my family and him, too." He stated, "I hope people understand that he had to do what he had to do to save somebody else's life. Getting involved isn't a bad thing, even if it's just stopping to call 911.” He added poignantly, "I get to see my grand kids grow up, my daughters get married eventually. He did a fabulous thing."
Yoxall concluded, "No member of our law enforcement should have to be in that situation of fear and being alone with nobody responding.” He said he didn’t regret shooting the assailant, but admitted it’s "hard to relive sometimes."
Col. Frank Milstead, director of the Arizona Department of Public Safety, offered, "Thomas didn't help Ed out based on whose side he was on. He did it because it was a gut instinct that told him he needed to get involved. It's beautiful, it's pure."