The armed citizen who stepped in to assist an imperiled Arizona Department of Public Safety trooper on a West Valley highway has come forward to talk about the situation he felt compelled to step into.
43-year-old Thomas Yoxall spoke in front of the press on Tuesday afternoon, emotionally describing the armed showdown that was fated to take place on a lonely desert stretch of Interstate 10 and recounting his reactions to seeing an Arizona DPS Trooper Ed Anderson’s head being pounded into the pavement.
Yoxall reportedly took control of his personal sidearm and ordered the assailant -a former Mexican Federal Police officer and illegal immigrant named Leonard Penuelas-Escobar- to stand down and leave the trooper alone. When the illegal refused to comply, Yoxall maneuvered in such a manner as not to hit the trooper and opened fire, killing Penuelas-Escobar.
Thinking back to his actions on the highway in the predawn hours of January 12, Yoxall described his reaction as “visceral.”
“It’s who I am,” he said. “I can’t arbitrarily stand by and watch a tragedy like that unfold without doing what I can to intervene and stop it.”
His voice cracking as he recalled the incident, Yoxall admitted that he still struggles with the fact that he killed a man, regardless if the cause was justified. A spiritual man, Yoxall said he has sought counsel from his pastor on the matter but would not hesitate to repeat his actions if a similar situation ever arose.
“I’m just thankful that I was able to respond, (in a way) that ultimately saved Trooper Andersson’s life,” he said.
DPS Director Colonel Frank Milstead referred to Yoxall as an “amazing guy.”
“I’m humbled to have met him, to know what he did,” Milstead said. “Because we’re having this conversation about a hero and not an on-duty death.”
Despite his brave actions in the face of danger, Yoxall appeared to be visibly uncomfortable with his “hero” status.
“I’m an ordinary person,” he said. “I go to work, I do photography, I hang out with my friends and family. I was put in extraordinary circumstances and may have acted heroically, but I don’t consider myself a hero.”
While Yoxall has no prior military or law-enforcement experience, he emphasised his role as a legally-armed citizen, adding that he trains several times a year to maintain proficiency.
“I feel that it’s a right and a privilege to be a private gun owner, and with that right and privilege comes a great responsibility,” he said.
More interestingly, Yoxall’s Constitutional right to bear arms was previously stripped from him for a brief time before being restored, the result of “moments of poor judgement” in his youth.
In 2000, he was charged with felony theft for stealing from his work, a charge which was later dropped to a misdemeanor. In 2003, he petitioned to have the felony charge dropped when he realized just how important those rights were.
“Before this incident, I was an avid shooter,” Yoxall wrote in his petition. “… I miss owning a gun. I miss shooting with my friends as well as my son. I hope, if nothing else, you will reinstate my civil rights to include the right to bear arms once again.”
AZCentral reports that in October of 2003, his guilty judgement was vacated and his stripped rights to firearm ownership were restored.
“Those moments of poor judgement have not dictated my future,” he said on Tuesday.
If nothing else, it seems the redemption of Thomas Yoxall has come full circle- as the restoration of his rights resulted in the saving of a lawman in need.
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