Accused freeway shooter pleads not guilty, is denied bail - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

Accused freeway shooter pleads not guilty, is denied bail

Posted: Updated:
Suspect Stephen Dragasits pleaded not guilty Friday to four felony counts. He was denied bail. Suspect Stephen Dragasits pleaded not guilty Friday to four felony counts. He was denied bail.
Stephen Joseph Dragasits. Stephen Joseph Dragasits.

SAN DIEGO (CNS) - A 58-year-old transient accused of opening fire on freeway traffic in Kearny Mesa two weeks ago, wounding a college student and damaging another motorist's car, pleaded not guilty Friday to four felony charges and was ordered held without bail.

Stephen Joseph Dragasits, who was living in a motor home near the site of the April 5 shootings on state Route 163, was arrested Wednesday afternoon at a Wal-Mart in the area, according to the California Highway Patrol.

Deputy District Attorney Chandelle Konstanzer told Judge David Szumowski Friday that Dragasits' bail should be at least $2 million because he is a flight risk who also represents an "extreme danger" to the community. But the judge denied bail for Dragasits, saying the risk to public safety was "significant."

At one point during the arraignment, Szumowski asked Dragasits if he was wearing sunglasses. When the defendant said they were prescription, the judge ordered him to take them off.

Dragasits was charged with two counts each of shooting into an occupied vehicle and assault with force likely to produce great bodily injury. He faces 19 years and four months if convicted, but more charges could be added as prosecutors continue to look at the evidence in the case, Konstanzer said.

"At this point, these appear to be completely unprovoked shootings," the prosecutor said outside court. "Ashley Simmons, the USD student that was shot, was just driving to school, and the other victim ... they were both just innocent people driving down the 163 (freeway)."

The wounded 21-year-old student, unaware she had been shot, called her mother and told her she was having trouble breathing, authorities said. A bullet had come through the rear passenger door of her Toyota Matrix and pierced her rib cage.

Konstanzer said in court that Simmons suffered a collapsed lung and the .22-caliber bullet lodged in her liver, leading to a one-week stay in the hospital.

Authorities learned a second vehicle had been hit by a bullet on the same stretch of freeway about the same time Simmons was shot. On April 6, a 42-year-old Rancho Bernardo resident reported that his southbound car was shot near the junction of state Route 52.

Konstanzer put out a plea for any additional victims or witnesses who might have information on the case to contact the CHP.

Specifically, investigators want to talk to motorists who might have been driving in the area of southbound 163 near Clairemont Mesa Boulevard a little after 7 a.m. on April 5 in vehicles fitted with "dash cameras," the prosecutor said.

Dragasits, a New York native who told investigators he was a former Navy man and one-time employee of the county of San Diego, allegedly was linked to the shootings through surveillance and DNA evidence found on a bullet casing picked up after the shooting, CHP Capt. Rich Stewart said Thursday.

The gun that fired the rounds, believed to be a .22-caliber Winchester 190 rifle, has not been recovered, Stewart said.

He said that prior to the shootings, Dragasits had been arrested and convicted for throwing rocks at cars on the freeway in the same area.

Stewart said it remained unclear exactly where the gunfire came from, though investigators do not believe the shooter was inside a moving vehicle.

Deputy Public Defender Salvatore Tarantino said the defendant has lived in San Diego County for 35 years. He will be back in court May 3 for a readiness conference and May 5 for a preliminary hearing at which a judge will decide if enough evidence exists to warrant a trial.

This is a story update. The previous story is below.

SAN DIEGO (CNS) - A 58-year-old drifter was behind bars Thursday for allegedly opening fire on freeway traffic in Kearny Mesa two weeks ago, wounding a college student and damaging another motorist's car.

Steven Joseph Dragasits, who was living in a recreational vehicle near the site of the shootings on state Route 163, was arrested Wednesday afternoon at a Wal-Mart in the area, according to the California Highway Patrol.

Dragasits is scheduled to be arraigned Friday afternoon on two counts of tempted murder and several weapons charges.

The suspect, a New York native who told investigators he was a former Navy man and one-time employee of the county of San Diego, allegedly was linked to the shootings via DNA evidence found on a bullet casing picked up after the shooting and surveillance video, CHP Capt. Rich Stewart said.

"I can tell you that we had a total of three investigators assigned to this full-time, and with the cooperation of ... the San Diego Police Department and the San Diego (County) Sheriff's Department and the California Department of Justice, we were able to develop information that strongly suggests that Mr. Dragasits is our suspect in this shooting," Stewart said.

The gunfire erupted near Clairemont Mesa Boulevard shortly after 7 a.m. April 5.

A few minutes later, the wounded 21-year-old University of San Diego student, unaware she had been shot, called her mother and told her she was having trouble breathing, authorities said. A bullet had come through the rear passenger door of her Toyota Matrix and pierced her rib cage.

The victim told investigators she was driving in the far left-hand southbound lane of the freeway when she felt a pain in her right side. The Escondido resident underwent surgery and has been making a good recovery, Stewart said.

Authorities learned a second vehicle had been hit by a bullet on the same stretch of freeway about the same time the student was shot. On April 6, a 42-year-old Rancho Bernardo resident reported that his southbound car was shot near the junction with state Route 52.

Investigators determined that a hole in a rear window frame on the man's car also was caused by a small-caliber slug, according to the CHP.

Following the initial report of gunfire, police closed a section of the state route in the area and searched the roadway, finding about a dozen bullet casings in several spots.

The gun that fired the rounds, believed to be a Winchester 190 rifle, has not been recovered, Stewart told news crews at CHP Border Division headquarters.

Prior to the shootings, Dragasits had been arrested and convicted for throwing rocks at cars on the freeway in the same area, the captain said.

The suspect had been living in his motor home near the freeway, generally parking it on on Kearny Villa Road, Stewart said.

"He travels back and forth and moves the vehicle from time to time," he said.

Stewart said it remained unclear exactly where the gunfire came from, though investigators do not believe the shooter was inside a moving vehicle.

Dragasits "did not appear to be surprised when he was arrested," Stewart said.

"There was no resistance on his part," the captain added.

Powered by Frankly
All content © Copyright 2000 - 2017 Midwest Television, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
For more information on this site, please read our Privacy Policy, and Terms of Service, and Ad Choices.