Former USD student testifies about being shot on freeway - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

Former USD student testifies about being shot as she drove to school on freeway

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SAN DIEGO (CNS) - A former University of San Diego student who was shot while driving on state Route 163 to the Linda Vista campus testified Monday that she heard a very loud noise, then immediately felt a pain in her side.

Ashley Simmons took the stand as a preliminary hearing got under way for Stephen Dragasits, a transient accused of opening fire with a rifle on morning commute traffic on SR 163, wounding Simmons and putting a bullet hole in the back of another motorist's vehicle last April 5.

Simmons, 21, testified that she thought the noise she heard was firecrackers going off in her car as she drove between Clairemont Mesa Boulevard and Balboa Avenue.

"It kind of startled me," she testified.

Simmons said she thought there was something wrong with her car and called her mother, then started having trouble breathing and called her mother back, saying she needed help and to summon an ambulance. She said she parked in front of USD, and paramedics took her to Sharp Memorial Hospital.

Simmons -- who spent eight days in the hospital -- said she suffered a collapsed lung, and a .22-caliber bullet lodged in her liver.

The bullet put a hole in the driver's seat of Simmons' car and the right rear passenger door.

Jeffrey Lloyd-Jones testified that he was driving to work in the same area about 7:15 a.m. the same day and felt a jarring shake to his car.

"To me, it felt like I ran over a huge pothole," he said.

Lloyd-Jones said he didn't see anything on the bottom of his car when he got to work, but later saw a bullet hole on the left rear panel when he stopped to get gas.

The witness said he called the CHP that night when he saw news reports about Simmons being shot.

Liesl Fisher testified that she was walking into work in the area around 7:40 a.m. when she heard what sounded like "pop, pop, pop."

"I assumed it was a firecracker because I never thought it would be anything else," Fisher testified.

Fisher -- whose family is involved in target ranges --- said the pops were consistent with gunfire.

Tyler Didier was also headed into work when he heard a muffled gunshot and a "ting" around the same time.

Dragasits, 58, is charged with two counts each of attempted murder, shooting into an occupied vehicle and assault with force likely to produce great bodily injury, said Deputy District Attorney Chandelle Konstanzer. He faces 43 years to life in prison if convicted, according to the prosecutor.

The defendant, who was living in a motor home near the site of the shootings in Kearny Mesa, was arrested April 20 at a Wal-Mart in the area, according to the California Highway Patrol.

Konstanzer said the shootings were completely unprovoked.

Dragasits, a New York native who told investigators he was a former Navy man and one-time employee of the county of San Diego, 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.

Prior to the shootings, Dragasits had been convicted of throwing rocks at cars on the freeway in the same area, 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.

At the conclusion of the preliminary hearing, Judge Melinda Lasater will decide if enough evidence was presented for Dragasits to stand trial.

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