Alleged freeway shooter seeks release while awaiting trial

Idaho StatesmanJanuary 11, 2014 

Lajai Jamar Pridgette

Lajai Jamar Pridgette, 29, of Sacramento, Calif., is accused of firing a handgun at two vehicles — a car occupied by three man headed east on Interstate 84 near the Broadway Avenue exit in Boise and a pickup traveling on the freeway near Hammett, 27 miles farther east — on Oct. 30.

Despite the violent acts, Pridgette is not being tried in U.S. District Court in Boise on attempted murder charges. Instead, federal prosecutors are going after him for possession of counterfeit credit cards, possession of a credit card manufacturing machine, possession of a firearm by a felon and transportation of a stolen car.

Pridgette was originally charged with 14 offenses in Ada and Gooding counties, including aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, theft by receiving, unlawful possession of a weapons, marijuana possession and giving false information to police.

Those state charges were dropped to allow prosecution under federal law. Pridgette faces up to 45 years in prison if convicted on the federal charges.

He was not charged in the shootings themselves, prosecutors wrote in court documents, because there was no federal jurisdiction for those crimes. New charges could be filed in state court after the federal cases conclude.

Defense attorney Dennis Benjamin has petitioned Magistrate Larry Boyle to release Pridgette pending trial. He said his client has a place to live and could be placed under third-party custody to ensure the safety of the community and to ensure he appears in court.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Marc Haws opposed the motion, which Boyle is expected to rule on during a hearing Monday at 10 a.m. in Boise.

Haws said their is overwhelming evidence that Pridgette used violence against innocent strangers and there was no provocation for the shootings.

"From the trajectory of the bullets fired at the three occupants of the Chevrolet Malibu and the driver of the Toyota pickup, it clearly appears that these shots were neither accidental nor intended as mere warning shots," Haws wrote in a court filing. He said Pridgette should remain in custody to protect the local community.

On the afternoon of Oct. 30, police received a 911 call from three occupants of a 2013 Chevrolet Mailbu saying a man in a Ford Mustang pulled up alongside them and fired a shot that shattered both of the car's back side windows. The shot barely missed the passenger in the back seat and an Idaho State Police trooper later found a bullet in the right rear door panel.

An hour later, police received a report of a man shooting at a 1995 Toyota pickup 16 miles east of Mountain Home. The driver didn't believe someone would shoot at him, so he pulled over, thinking his pickup had a mechanical problem. Police found a bullet hole just behind the back edge of the driver's door and found the bullet had also penetrated the truck's camper shell. A bullet ended up going through a suitcase and was found inside.

ISP Trooper Amanda Hansen, alerted to the shootings, watched in Gooding County for the Mustang, which had been stolen from Hertz in California. She spotted the car, followed behind and watched as Pridgette pulled off the freeway and went inside a convenience store in Wendell, 106 miles east of Boise.

Hansen confronted the subject as he came out of the store. Pridgette was arrested without incident.

On the floor on the driver's side, police found a 9mm Smith & Wesson pistol. They also found $3,300 in cash, a stolen Dell laptop computer, a credit card skimmer and embosser and blank and counterfeit credit cards.

Pridgette gave police a false name but they were able to identify him by a traffic ticket issued to him in Elk Grove, Calif., that they found in the car. They also noticed he had the initials "LP" tattooed between his eyes.

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