The man who attacked and shot an Arizona state trooper was a former Mexican federal police officer in the U.S. illegally, authorities have learned.
The suspect, 37-year-old Leonard Pennelas-Escobar, is accused of shooting Trooper Edward Andersson on Jan. 12 after the suspect's car rolled over on the interstate, Department of Public Safety Director Frank Milstead said at a Jan. 16 news conference, according to The Associated Press.
Pennelas-Escobar has no prior criminal history but was believed to be a drug user in the country illegally. Authorities have not disclosed possible motives for the attack.
When Andersson saw the car accident, he set up flares to redirect traffic and approached Pennelas-Escobar to help him, when the motorist reportedly shot the trooper before punching him and hitting his head on the ground, Milstead said.
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At that moment, a driver who saw the attack pulled over, ordered the suspect to cease attacking the officer and then took out his handgun and fired two shots at the man, incapacitating him. The witness moved to help Andersson, Milstead said, but fired another shot at Pennelas-Escobar as the suspect continued harming the officer. Pennelas-Escobar died after that shot.
"He knows he did the right thing," Milstead said of the third man, who did not serve in the military or law enforcement but did have firearm experience, notes the AP. "He is trying to reconcile that in his mind, which is difficult to take a life even when you know it's the right thing to do."
Under its "defense of third person" law, it is legal in Arizona to use deadly force against somebody harming or threatening another person.
Andersson was taken into surgery for gunshot wounds to the shoulder and chest and has since been discharged from the hospital. According to the Arizona State Troopers Association, the 27-year department veteran is expected to make a full recovery, thanks to the unidentified motorist.
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"[The driver] definitely kept [Andersson] from having much more serious neurological injuries from this beating," Milstead said, according to the AP.