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A Good Guy with a Gun

By Jeff Knox

Needed it.  Had it.  Used it well.

(February 2, 2017) In the early morning hours of January 12 an Arizona State Trooper, a convicted felon, and an illegal immigrant known to be a methamphetamine user, met on a lonely stretch of highway 40 miles west of Phoenix. A young woman was already dead, and the toll was about to climb.  All three men had guns. Only one would walk away.

Trooper Edward Andersson, a 27-year veteran of the Arizona Department of Public Safety and a popular high school volleyball coach in the little town of Tonopah, a farming community near Interstate 10, just a few miles from my Arizona home.

Leonard Penuelas-Escobar was 37-years old, and a former Mexican National Police officer.  He was in the United States illegally, but had no criminal record here. He and his 23-year old girlfriend were both known to use methamphetamine.

Thomas Yoxall was a 43-year old maintenance worker and convicted criminal, covered in tattoos, with large drooping earlobes, stretched by “gauges.”  His possession of a firearm would have been illegal, but for an Arizona judge who reduced his conviction from a felony to a misdemeanor, and restored Yoxall’s right to arms – something that gun control advocates vehemently oppose.

Penuelas-Escobar had been driving from Phoenix to a house near Tonopah when he lost control of the speeding car, causing a violent rollover.  His girlfriend was ejected from the vehicle and killed. A variety of confusing reports were received by 911 operators, and Trooper Andersson, who was nearby, made his way to the scene.

Upon arriving, Andersson saw Penuelas-Escobar cradling his girlfriend on the side of the road.  The car was off the highway in a crumpled pile in the desert. Andersson engaged his emergency lights and quickly put out flares to slow traffic on the 75 mph highway, then approached the crash victims to assess the situation.  Yoxall was still a couple of miles away, just beginning to see the flickering lights ahead.

As Andersson approached, Penuelas-Escobar suddenly became irate, yelling something in Spanish, and firing a 9mm handgun at Andersson.  A bullet struck the trooper in the right shoulder, doing significant damage to bone and muscle, and disabling his right arm. Penuelas-Escobar then tackled the trooper, and began violently pounding his face and head, while straddling his chest.

That’s when Yoxall arrived.  He saw the two men wrestling on the ground, and rather than driving on, Yoxall stopped the car, grabbed his gun, and ordered Penuelas-Escobar to stop.  Only getting violent cursing in response, Yoxall gave a final warning, then fired two shots, both striking Penuelas-Escobar in the upper body. Yoxall and another Good Samaritan who had just arrived began rendering first aid to the wounded trooper.  But Penuelas-Escobar wasn’t finished. He got up and advanced on the trooper and his rescuers, at which point Yoxall fired another shot, killing the man.

Proponents of gun control might try to claim that this tragedy could have been averted if not for Arizona’s “lax” gun laws.  Perhaps Penuelas-Escobar might not have been able to acquire the gun he used to shoot Trooper Andersson, and the Trooper might have been able to fend off the attack.  But the fact is, Penuelas-Escobar was violating multiple state and federal laws by possessing a gun. As a person illegally in this country, and as a user of illegal drugs, it was a felony for him to touch a firearm.  Had he been unable to acquire a gun, he would have almost certainly had a knife or some other type of weapon. And while there is no end to the what-ifs and maybes, the reality is that the only person involved in this incident who would have been disarmed by any gun control law, is Thomas Yoxall.

Yoxall might have been able to use his hands, feet, or some sort of improvised weapon, but that would have taken time, and would be very risky.  Perhaps if Yoxall were a trained cage fighter in top form, he might have had the confidence and skill to pull it off, but not knowing what weapons or skills Penuelas-Escobar might have, trying to take him on hand-to-hand would have been very dangerous.

Had this event happened just 75 miles to the west, Yoxall would have had fewer options.  He would have been required to have his gun unloaded and locked in the trunk. Just driving on by would have been the safe bet in a place where gun laws are only obeyed by the law-abiding, like Yoxall.

Thomas Yoxall insists that he is not a hero, but rather “just a regular guy” who did what he had to do in a terrible situation.  He struggles with the burden of taking a human life, but is consoled in the knowledge that doing so probably saved the life of Trooper Andersson, and possibly others.

Yoxall is not a stereotypical “gun guy.”  His tattoos, ear gauges, and past mistakes, set him apart from the Elmer Fudd image so many people have of gun owners.  Thank goodness there are people like him, who are willing to step up when needed, and thank goodness a judge was rational enough to see that Mr. Yoxall’s past mistakes should not bar him from possessing firearms.

Our thanks and our prayers go out to Thomas Yoxall for taking action and doing what was right.

Yoxall at the range
Thomas Yoxall at the range long before his shooting skills saved a State Trooper’s life