Alleged freeway shooter pleads not guilty to new charges

SAN DIEGO (CNS) – Two counts of attempted murder were lodged Tuesday against a transient accused of opening fire on freeway traffic in Kearny Mesa, wounding a college student and damaging another motorist's car.

Stephen Joseph Dragasits, 58, pleaded not guilty to the new counts.

He was already facing two counts each of shooting into an occupied vehicle and assault with force likely to produce great bodily injury, which were filed earlier and still stand, Deputy District Attorney Chandelle Konstanzer said.

The new charges contain allegations that he caused great bodily injury to 21-year-old University of San Diego student Ashley Simmons, and fired a rifle, the prosecutor said.

She said he would face 43 years to life in state prison if convicted.

Dragasits, who was living in a motor home near the site of the April 5 shootings on state Route 163, was arrested April 20 at a Wal-Mart in the area, according to the California Highway Patrol.

Konstanzer said the 7 a.m. shootings were completely unprovoked.

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

The prosecutor said Simmons suffered a collapsed lung and the .22- caliber bullet lodged in her liver, leading to a one-week stay in a 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 he was southbound when fired upon near the junction of state Route 52.

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.

He said that prior to the shootings, Dragasits had been convicted of 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.

Defense attorney Euketa Oliver told Judge Theodore Wheathers that her client had a couple of teeth knocked out and requested a move to another jail out of safety concerns.

The judge scheduled a preliminary hearing for July 11.

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