Victims testify at hearing for suspected freeway shooter
SAN DIEGO (CNS) – Testimony will resume Tuesday in a preliminary hearing for a transient accused of opening fire with a rifle on morning commute traffic on state Route 163, wounding a University of San Diego student on her way to school and putting a bullet hole in the back of another motorist's vehicle.
Stephen 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. He faces 43 years to life in prison if convicted, said prosecutor Chandelle Konstanzer.
At the conclusion of the preliminary hearing, Judge Melinda Lasater will determine if enough evidence was produced for Dragasits to stand trial.
Ashley Simmons testified Monday that she was driving on southbound SR 163 around 7:15 a.m. last April 5 when she heard a very loud noise, then immediately felt a pain in her side.
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.
The witness, who has since graduated, 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. he 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.
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.
A CHP investigator testified that shell casings and a bullet were found during a search of Dragasits' motor home, which was parked on a frontage road next to the freeway.