No bail for alleged freeway shooter
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 today 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.