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Man accused of shooting at motorists on freeway 'targeted' his victims, prosecutor tells jury

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Stephen Joseph Dragasits Stephen Joseph Dragasits
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    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. 
    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. 

SAN DIEGO (CNS) - A man committed a "senseless crime" by shooting at motorists on a San Diego freeway, wounding a college student and damaging another man's car, a prosecutor said Wednesday, but a defense attorney said the police investigation was mishandled and urged jurors to acquit her client.

Stephen Joseph 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 and faces 43 years to life in prison if convicted.

In her opening statement, Deputy District Attorney Chandelle Konstanzer said Dragasits "targeted" his victims last April 5.

Konstanzer said 21-year-old University of San Diego student Ashley Simmons was shot as she drove southbound on state Route 163 near the Clairemont Mesa Boulevard exit.

"Ms. Simmons didn't know right away that she was shot," the prosecutor told the jury.

Konstanzer said Simmons called her mother when she felt pain but continued on to the entrance of USD in Linda Vista before being taken to a hospital.

Doctors discovered that she had a bullet wound to her back, below the shoulder blade. She had injuries to her lung, abdomen and kidney and the bullet lodged in her liver, forcing a nine-day hospital stay, Konstanzer said.

Simmons testified that she heard a "popping" sound and felt pain around 7:15 a.m. as she drove between Clairemont Mesa Boulevard and Balboa Avenue.

A second motorist, Jeffrey Lloyd-Jones, was driving in the same area that morning when he heard a loud noise about the same time but continued on to work, Konstanzer said.

She said Lloyd-Jones later discovered a bullet hole in his car, but thought it might be stray gunfire from Marine Corps Air Station Miramar.

He came forward to authorities after seeing reports of the shootings on the news, Konstanzer said.

Konstanzer told the jury that Dragasits, who was known to hang out in the area near his motor home, was convicted of a misdemeanor charge for throwing rocks at cars about a month before the shootings but was free when the shooting happened in April.

A good Samaritan gave authorities a video tape showing the defendant's motor home parked in the area of the shootings, the prosecutor said.

A search of that motor home -- which had 50 bullet holes on the outside -- turned up shell casings, an empty box and receipt for ammunition and a rifle scope, Konstanzer said.

DNA found on .22-caliber casings recovered on the freeway matched the defendant's DNA, according to the prosecutor.

Defense attorney Euketa Oliver told jurors in her opening statement that the freeway casings were tested as a group and could have been contaminated.

She said a lab analyst did not follow protocol in comparing the DNA, adding that law enforcement tactics in the case were "questionable."

Two other suspects known to authorities were ignored as police focused on Dragasits, his attorney said.

She urged jurors to find the defendant not guilty.

 

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