NOTE: Pictures of the woman’s wounds are shown later in the story.
By Chris Caraveo, Independent Newsmedia
When Toni woke up at the hospital, two of her neighbors were there to greet her.
What happened prior to that moment was a game of chance.
On Feb. 18 at about 2:30 a.m., Toni, 63, was sitting in her Dodge Challenger in the roundabout section of the parking lot at the Peoria City Complex and playing Pokémon Go, a popular mobile game app released in July 2016.
“I’ve done it a thousand times since last July,” she said. “I’ve been out every night.”
She was on her way home at the time and decided to stop inside the city hall lot to collect items from a PokéStop. Then a man approached her Dodge Challenger and asked for directions to an intersection along Litchfield Road.
“You have a long walk,” Toni recalled telling him.
Next thing she knew, the man pulled out a handgun and demanded her to get out of her car.
“I didn’t have time to calm him down,” she said. “I had some mace in my car.”
She attempted to grab an object which the man then wanted. When he crossed his arms to reach for it, Toni used her own to flip his arms up and put the car in drive.
As she drove off, he fired a shot, the bullet entering Toni’s left cheek, according to photos released by police.
After the shot, Toni drove east on Monroe Street, eventually stopping in front of Fire Station No. 1 Lucidi Distilling Co. on Washington Street, less than a mile away.
“I couldn’t see. The shot took all my sight away,” she said. “I knew where I wanted to go and that’s where my car took me. I called 911. The last thing I know I was in the hospital and in pretty bad shape.”
On the other end of the call was Nancy Miller, a 9-year communications specialist at the Peoria Police Department. The dialogue between the two enabled Toni to receive the help she needed and eventually meet the woman she had talked to.
On March 1, Toni and Ms. Miller met face-to-face at Peoria’s main police station. The two embraced in a hug, with Toni offering Ms. Miller lunch.
“I’m so grateful she’s here,” Ms. Miller said. “She’s her own hero, she really is.”
Toni’s handling the situation makes sense — she was a deputy for the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office for 14 years.
“Her experience and training as a deputy assisted her greatly,” Major Crimes Det. Christopher Boughey said. “Her cop instincts probably saved her life.”
Police provided an updated description of the suspects after speaking with Toni March 1.
The shooter is described as a 17- to 19-year-old Hispanic male, light-skinned, no taller than 5 feet 7 inches and a thin build. He has short dark brown hair, clean cut and no facial hair. He was seen wearing a white t-shirt, dark blue baggy pants.
The suspect who also approached the vehicle was a black male, dark complexion, between 5 feet 10 inches and 6 feet tall, 180 to 200 pounds with an athletic build, with a chubby face and short dark hair. He was wearing an Army green-colored heavy coat and dark-colored denim pants or jeans.
In a video released by the department, three other people are seen but never approached Toni by the time the man shot her. One of them has been described as a Hispanic male, between 17 and 19 years old. He was wearing white-colored “painter’s” pants and a white ball cap.
Toni hopes the suspects are caught. Det. Boughey said the police expect to deliver justice.
When asked what she would say to the suspects, Toni mimed pushing the microphones aside before responding.
“Good luck in prison,” she said.
And while Toni said being out alone at 2:30 a.m. playing Pokémon Go probably is not the smartest thing to do, she said she should be able to do so.
“Our world today is not what I grew up in,” Toni said. “You hear that all the time, but if someone can’t go out and play a simple little game, then something’s wrong.”
Toni said she is very lucky to be alive.
“I don’t know if you’ve heard the song ‘Lord Please Take the Wheel'”, she said. “But somebody had that wheel.”
Editor’s note: Toni’s real name was not released by Peoria police to protect her identity.