Man who shot at drivers denied chance to challenge prison sentence

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SAN DIEGO (CNS) — A man who shot at vehicles on state Route 163, wounding a college student and damaging the car of another motorist nearly a decade ago, was denied a chance Thursday to challenge a lower court’s decision against striking 25 years to life off his prison sentence.

Stephen Joseph Dragasits was sentenced in 2013 to 36 years and four months to life in state prison for firing nearly a dozen rifle rounds at passing cars on April 5, 2011.

Prosecutors said Dragasits deliberately fired from his motorhome, which was parked along the freeway, striking University of San Diego student Ashley Simmons in the back and hitting Jeffrey Lloyd-Jones’ car during their morning commutes. DNA on shell casings police found along the freeway matched that on Dragasits’ weapon, prosecutors said.

Dragasits was convicted, after two trials, of assault with a firearm and shooting at an occupied vehicle, and jurors found true allegations of discharging a firearm and causing great bodily injury but deadlocked 6-6 on two counts of attempted murder.

About two months before the shooting, Dragasits was arrested for throwing rocks at cars along the same stretch of freeway, which resulted in a misdemeanor conviction.

While Dragasits’ appeal of the felony convictions was denied, Senate Bill 620 — which went into effect in 2018 — gave trial judges discretion to strike firearm enhancements like the one that added 25 years to life to Dragasits’ prison term.

Last year, a San Diego Superior Court judge declined to strike the enhancement, and Dragasits appealed that decision, arguing that given his age — now nearing 70 — a non-life term would be fairer and more appropriate.

A three-justice appeals court panel denied Dragasits’ request, stating the trial court was well aware of the facts of the case, including the defendant’s age, as well as other mitigating factors like his prior military service and limited criminal history.

“The victim in this case suffered life-threatening injuries,” the appeals court’s ruling states. “Dragasits’ continued violence toward motorists and his recent escalation of violence by the discharge of a firearm eleven times at innocent motorists amply justifies the court’s exercise of discretion.”

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