Highway Shooting Trial Ends in Hung Jury - NBC 7 San Diego

Highway Shooting Trial Ends in Hung Jury

Jurors returned with a split decision in the highway shooting trial



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    Officers shut down the section of SR 163 and walked it to search for evidence.

    Jurors could not come to an agreement in the case of a San Diego man accused of aiming at innocent motorists on a local highway.

    Stephen Dragasits faced six counts including attempted murder, shooting at an occupied vehicle and assault with a firearm in connection with a series of shootings that occurred April 5, 2011 along a section of State Route 163.

    After several days of deliberation, a hung jury prompted a mistrial in the case according to a county court spokesperson.

    Prosecutor Chandelle Konstanzer said jurors voted 4 guilty, 8 not guilty on the attempted murder charges. They returned with 7 guilty and 5 not guilty verdicts on the shooting at an occupied vehicle charges and they returned with 10 guilty and two not guilty on the assault with a firearm charges.

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    Stephen Dragasits, 58, faced his accusers Monday in a preliminary hearing. He allegedly fired -- at random -- a gun at state Route 163 morning traffic on April 25, injuring Ashley Simmons, a University of San Diego student, and striking Jeffrey Lloyd-Jones' vehicle.
    (Published Monday, July 11, 2011)

    Konstanzer said the district attorney's office will seek to retry the case. A status conference is scheduled for Friday, April 20.

    The shootings terrified thousands of drivers along SR 163 as they wondered who might be responsible for randomly shooting at cars traveling on the highway between Clairemont Mesa Boulevard and Balboa Avenue.

    During the trial, jurors saw video from a dashboard camera showing what prosecutors said was Dragasit's RV parked on Kearny Mesa Road that day, by the side of the freeway, close to where 12 bullet casings were later found by investigators.

    The casings found near the RV had Dragasits' DNA on them according to prosecutors. Other casings that were later found inside the RV were identical to those found near the RV officials said.

    Dragasits “set himself up like a sniper” alongside a San Diego freeway striking two vehicles and seriously injuring one driver according to Konstanzer.

    "He was aiming, and he intended to kill the occupants," Konstanzer told jurors during closing arguments last week.

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    An arrest has been made in the highway shootings that injured one driver and damaged a second car in San Diego, according to officials.
    (Published Thursday, April 21, 2011)

    However, in closing arguments, defense attorney Euketa Oliver told jurors there was no testimony putting her client at the location at the time of the shootings. No one testified that they even saw someone with a rifle.

    There was no direct evidence that he was even anywhere near the scene, much less that he fired those shots, Oliver told the jury.

    The defense insisted there were two other suspects in this case that were not given enough scrutiny.

    "There is no (direct) evidence linking Mr. Dragasits to the shooting," Oliver said.

    Prosecutors presented evidence that Dragasits’ cell phone records placed him in Kearny Mesa. Witnesses also testified they saw his RV there.

    Oliver however said the video and photos do not clearly show that it’s Dragasits’ RV reminding jurors the RV is a common model.

    A University of San Diego graduate student was hospitalized as a result of the shootings. Ashley Simmons, 21, was driving to class when she realized she was having trouble breathing. She didn't know that a bullet had entered her car, traveled through her driver's seat and into her rib cage.

    "It kind of startled me so I screamed really loud and right after I screamed I felt a pain in my side and the pain went away almost instantly, but immediately after that I had trouble breathing," she told NBCSanDiego after the shooting.

    Driver Jeffrey Lloyd-Jones told NBCSanDiego that he didn't realize he had been shot at until he was filling up at a gas station.

    "I had to clean my windows and when I was cleaning my windows, that's when I noticed a hole," he said.

    At the time of his arrest, Dragasits' DNA was already on file at the crime lab from an earlier misdemeanor arrest for throwing rocks at vehicles in that same area near the 163.

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